When I was still working for a church, one of my favorite things to do was special events. Especially if these were off-site and outdoors.
“Work with what you have, not with what you wish you had, for an event.”
For me, the week after week of variations of the relatively same Sunday service, became mundane for me. Whereas having to plan for an event off-site offered something new and exciting, that would create a spark in me. This is still true for me today, and I’m currently very fortunate that pretty much each the events that I do for Liberty University fall into this category.
Even at Liberty, where we have a lot of great installed AV systems, there are still many events where we need to bring in complete systems for an event, despite having a good degree of resources.
“Work with what you have, not with what you wish you had, for an event.” This issue is something that one often runs into when church leadership approaches them with great ideas or plans for upcoming special events outdoors and off-site. Usually, you are not able to take the church’s main audio system or the associated consoles, because they are part of a permanent install.
Without having that installed gear to use as an option, you look to other options. Probably, you don’t just have a fantastic portable rig conveniently lying around the church for such situations. So, you need to find gear that is either available or more easily removed from the church, after which they can be easily reinstalled, following the event.
Confronting these additional hurdles usually amount to a drop in the quality of the final production, and more importantly, below what your church’s normal service looks and/or sounds like.
Despite such challenges, I want to take a few moments and discuss ways that one could improve the overall quality of such a produced event.
Planning is going to be your best friend to achieve what you are looking for. The first thing is to get with who is putting on the event and find out what their vision is for the event. How does audio and video play into it, and what are they looking for in terms of support in those areas?
This also might be a time where you can talk about what you can do, and what you can’t. Look, I openly admit that I can’t stand the standard church audio guy’s answer of “no,” but sometimes you do have to say it. Even so, I still try to figure out a way of telling them “no” without actually saying the word.
Once you have your initial talk with the ministry leader(s) that are putting on the event, scout the location. This is where you can see how large or small the place is (having an idea about the expected attendance for the vent, following your meeting with the leaders). From there, start thinking through your audio options for the space.
While you’re doing that, also look for power, such as is there going to be enough circuits, to avoid running extension cords all over the place. Where will your FOH position be? Is there any weird or strange acoustics problems in the space that one would have to battle with? How will you get the equipment into the space, and what is the path for load in? Where are you going to be able to place the speakers? Will that effect where your microphones can be placed? Make sure to take lots of pictures of the space.
Have a team meeting. You probably hate meetings, as experience tells you that most of them are a giant waste of time. Fight through that mindset, though, and call a meeting with your team that will be serving with you at this event.
During the meeting, share the leader’s vision for the event, then share with them what your initial plan in terms of equipment and setup for it is. Then ask them what they think of that plan and ask them to find holes in it or to share what they see as a better idea, if they have one.
God gave you a team of people with different talents, experience levels and abilities, so make sure to use this amazing asset. The more eyes, ears and brains that you can have working on a problem, usually the better the result. This also builds ownership and buy-in for the outcome of the event.
People will care more, because they really had a say in how it will turn out.
Preparation is key to the success of the event.
Don’t wait until the last minute to get everything together, and hope it will work, after you get there.
Remember what you don’t bring to the event should be left out of any planned solutions. Build your racks in advance, get your cables together and organized. Set up the rig at least once and connect everything, as this is a great way to make sure you have everything that you will need at the event.
This reminds me of something that happened to me last week, while I was working on preparation for an outdoor event at Liberty. One of the engineers just couldn’t understand why I was setting up my audio mixing console scenes ahead of time. I made an input list for the event and sent copies to my team. I was going through and naming the mixer’s channels, as well as assigning its outputs, whether that was to Avioms or aux sends, or for setting up Waves Multirack for the event.
This engineer told me that he does his setup the day of the show, once the console is set up. This is a common mistake, though, that people make over and over again. Yes, there are times where you will not get an opportunity to set up your mixer ahead of time, but if we are honest, that’s almost never.
In terms of planning for the event, you know about it usually a month or more ahead of time.
Why would you not take advantage of the time, to get that work done in advance? For this event, I had all the inputs patched, named, assigned to their Aviom personal mixers, monitor sends, Waves plug-ins, effects sends. I’ve even had the exact reverb type and settings already laid out in advance, for the songs that will be played during the event.
Why do this, you might ask?
Time is the answer, you have plenty of time ahead of the event, to get as much work done as you can, but only so much time during the day of the event.
Depending on when you can get to the location and get set up, you might only have an hour or two before soundcheck. From my point of view, that’s not a lot of time to get the systems tuned and checked, particularly if any problems arise.
Another reason is that I want the event to have quality sound, with the best way to do that, by spending as much time mixing the band, before the start of the event.
If you are still working on the basics of getting your board set up, you won’t get much of a soundcheck. At some point, you need to figure out that passing audio through the console is not mixing, and therefore does not add up to you doing your best.
You usually get out of something what you put into it. This is true with our bodies, as well as our craft/talents.
For example, I spent probably about two weeks working on the planning for this event, including setting up the board and running signal through the Avioms and console outputs ahead of time. The event was slated to have nine vocals that traded on and off doing lead and harmony parts on five different mics.
That also included typical drums, bass, EG, AG and keys setup, along with a real B3 organ with Leslie (very cool) and a real Wurlitzer electric piano (even cooler) and running six channels of tracks from Ableton.
And we had a 25-voice choir as well.
For all of this, we had a combination of Avioms, floor monitors and wireless in-ears for the vocals. There is no way this event would have went well, if me and my team hadn’t put a lot of time and thought into the best way to do it, with the equipment that was available.
Even when you prepare things, they don’t always go according to plan.
We were told about this event, to expect around 300 people, and at the most 700, even though the people putting it on did not believe or expect the 700 number would happen.
So, we had what we thought was a good-sized system (also the largest available to us for this event) and guess what happened? Instead of a few hundred people, a few thousand showed up.
Nonetheless, the result was that for the people putting it on, as well as those who were there singing praises to our God, it was a great success. They thought it sounded great and did not have any complaints with what we did. In fact, they were very thankful, and talked with us following it about doing it again.
To me, this goes into why planning and preparation are so key to have a good sounding and successful event.
While there were things that we could not control, like how many people showed up or how big the audio system was, we executed a plan that a lot of thought and attention went into, making a small system sound as good as it could, instead of winging it and hoping for the best.