strategic stretching

By pushing ourselves from time to time, we increase our capacity. Looking at a running analogy, if I increase my pace a little at certain intervals, pretty soon my whole pace has increased.

StretchIn the world of production, once you try something for the first time, it now has the potential to be a part of my normal bag of tricks. The thing that almost killed you two Christmases ago, is now something you don’t hesitate to do on a normal weekend. Pushing yourself to try something new at the right intervals means that you are increasing your endurance, your capacity, your normal.

Pushing yourself too much or too often, will wear you down. However, without pushing yourself from time to time, you will stagnate.

Figure out the right pace for yourself. Then figure out how often you should push yourself.

photo by: emilio labrador

paper jam

Keeping things simple eliminates the possibility of failure. When something has tons a moving parts, we are opening ourselves up to those moving parts ceasing to move.

the Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley memorial copy machineI’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gone to the copy machine and something is jammed or broken. Considering how sophisticated they are, it isn’t a huge surprise that is seems like it’s broken more than it’s working.

In live production, we don’t have the luxury to wait for a copy machine repairman to show up. We need to get it working now!

Are you creating a collating, stapling, whole punching, folding copy machine type of plan or are your plans simple, eliminating the potential for failure?

photo by: ** RCB **

realms of practicability

I’ve been doing some writing on the idea of backup plans, and along the way, I’ve also been reading a book about the admirals who led the Navy during WWII, oddly enough called The Admirals by Walter R. Borneman. For the most part, the names Leahy, King, Nimitz and Halsey are not well known to the history of WWII, yet they were instrumental in helping bring an end to hostilities in the Pacific from December 1941 through August 1945.

Navy_binoculars.jpgI can’t even imagine the kind of leadership that was required to make the right decision, knowing that people’s lives were at stake. It makes the decisions I need to make each day seem pretty insignificant.

Anyway, Chester W Nimitz was the commander in chief of all air, sea and ground forces in the Pacific area starting immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he had quite a few leadership qualities that I really admire. One of them involved figuring out if a plan was worth executing. Check this out:

“Is the proposed operation likely to succeed? What might the consequences of failure be? Is it in the realm of practicability in terms of material and supplies?”

I love these questions. How sure are we that our plan will work? If it doesn’t work, what’s the worst that could happen? How many resources can I devote to minimizing the risk of failure?

Asking these questions really helps tweak out whether the original idea is any good in the first place. It also helps bring a backup plan into view, then asking if its going to be worth it.

Live production involves the risks of human error and/or equipment failure. We can’t eliminate every risk. It is not possible to avoid every possible failure. There isn’t enough money or people to solve every problem.

So how can we use these questions to make the best decisions for our services and our church, given the resources at our disposal?

 

photo by: wave-rider

discovering creative intent

To be a technical artist in the local church, you need to become really good at asking questions.

Not only are there details we need, so that the right gear is set up, but a key reason for asking questions is to get a better understanding of what we are actually trying to do.

3294014627_d34779dc88_bI have been a part of so many misunderstandings derived from assuming you know, or they know, or that everyone is thinking the same thing. As it turns out, nobody is thinking the same way about any one idea. We are all coming at it from very different angles.

At the baseline, production exists to support an idea, someone’s creativity. In our case, we are trying to create an environment where people can meet with God. Without fully understanding the intent of an idea, and how production can support this idea; things can get pretty out of hand quickly.

There was an era of my production life, where I wasn’t asking enough questions about intent. As a result, our production team just did what we thought was best, which turned out more often than not, to be 180 degrees from the intent of the idea. Production can get pretty distracting when there is a misunderstanding about creative intent.

If creating a distraction free environment is a key value (and it should be), without understanding the point of an idea, we will more often than not distract from what the idea is trying to achieve.

This kind of question asking is less about going after the answers you need and more about making sure the answers in your head are correct. The kind of answers you are looking for are less black and white: “How many snare drums will the drummer bring this week?” and more gray: “Are you wanting us to blast the audience with light, or do we want them in the dark at that moment in the song?”

Getting answers to how production can support an idea can’t happen without you asking the right questions.

learning from Disney housekeeping

disney housekeeping

Easter is coming, and for some crazy reason, you and your spouse decided it would be a good idea to host the family Easter dinner. Don’t you know you have some huge Easter production going on?

One of the things I love about having people over, is that it causes a flurry of activity to clean up, pick up and organize your house. For many of us, the mess in our homes becomes invisible to us and we let things pile up. Having people over means that they are going to see the mess that we’ve been living with for who knows how long.

On the other hand, one thing I don’t love about having people over is that it takes so much work to get the house ready and presentable. But it must be done. And it must be done before anyone arrives. I don’t want people walking in while I’m still cleaning up. I want to be relaxed so that I can enjoy the people I’ve invited over.

For the guests, there is a certain expectation that they will be taken care of and that any needs they have during their visit to our house will be taken care of and met. They are anticipating an enjoyable, relaxing time.

setting the stage
My friend Marty O’Connor taught me years ago that this principle applies to what we do as technical artists. One of the key factors in being prepared is that we have the table set, so to speak. When our counterparts on the stage arrive, everything should be ready for them to dig into the task at hand.

For the musicians, vocalists and speakers who have a task to perform on our stage, they have many things going on in their heads and hearts as they prepare to lead our congregation. Our job as technical artists is to have everything set for them, so that they can concentrate on the part they need to play.

This means that line check has already happened, that the lights are aimed before they walk in, that the graphics are correct and ready. The goal should be to have everything prepared before they walk in the door, much like the dinner party. If a guitar player has to go digging around looking for a music stand, she isn’t able to focus what she does best, play guitar.

I’m not suggesting that musicians should be above helping out and getting a music stand from time to time, but when you boil it all down, making sure the stage is ready to go when people walk in is my job. It’s the production team’s job to have everything prepared and waiting for people to walk up and do their thing.

As technical artists, our thing is to take care of the technical details of our services. Our pastors and worship leaders should be able to walk in and only worry about what they have prepared, not their stuff plus whether or not the graphics will be ready.

taking it up a notch
What if you spent some time to figure out how people like things to be ready for them? To learn what each person’s preferences are? The drummer only like to use one tom, not three, so our team takes the time to make it so. The senior pastor always likes a small table for water to the right of the podium, it’s there.

For those people who have ever stayed at a Disney resort, you know that the service is amazing. A friend was telling me that after housekeeping cleaned their room, his son’s stuff animal was moved around and posed in some fun way: brushing it’s teeth, looking out the window, watching TV. Was the room clean? Sure. But the experience was taken to another level by spending a few extra minutes to show some thoughtfulness.

Are you and your team ready to go when people arrive on stage?

What do you need to change to make sure the table is set and ready to go?

How can you go out of your way to create an unforgettable experience for your worship team?

don’t wait to stretch yourself

2570526012_e61ef1c166_oAs the technical artists at your church who stewards the resources that have been entrusted to you, you are responsible to get the most out of every piece of equipment.

Sometime we might not have the exact right piece of equipment to accomplish a someone’s creative idea, but don’t wait on new gear to try something new.

How can you take what you have do something new and amazing? How can you leverage the tools you do have at your disposal for kingdom impact?

Being ingenious with what you have can be a creative challenge.

Think differently about what you have and see what you can come up with. In this mode, you may not be doing things by the book, but who cares. Try it anyway. You might learn what doesn’t work, but you might also learn that your gear is capable of much more.

Along the way, you might also learn that you are capable of more.

a late night

This is a guest post by my friend David Leuschner, the Executive Director of the Technical Arts at Gateway Church in the Dallas area.

It was late. I walked into my house and sat down with a lot on my mind. As I sat there and thought about the day’s events, some good, some bad, a thought came to my mind: Am I leading my team well?

One person I have read a lot about and continue to learn from is Steve Jobs. He once said, “The most important thing is a person.”  His passion on this statement created some of the most dominant products and product following we’ve seen. More importantly, that statement is the key to answering the question, “Am I leading my team well?”

So, how does focusing on people show you’re leading your team well?

Change the mentality of what your team is doing.

Your production team isn’t just behind the scenes. They are the scene.

Like a worship leader on the platform playing a keyboard, techs are playing an instrument that mixes everything together to create the environment that ultimately sets the environment of worship and hopefully leads people to Christ.

Without this vital group, the spoken word would not reach satellite venues, recordings or the masses.

Technical artists are fulfilling the Great Commission.  If your team can grasp this, it’ll change the way they act and interact with each other.

If I do this will everything run perfectly?

No, tough situations arise. Leading well means you’re ready to address these tough situations. You’re monitoring the health of the team and ready to help someone if they get hurt or out of line. Similar to a sports team, you’re ready to bench people who don’t live up to the values of the team.

As I drifted off to sleep, I wrote down one last item. We have to hold ourselves accountable to be the best we can be, but our team is made up of people. They make good decisions and bad decisions. We can’t expect perfection, but we can expect excellence.

As Max DePree says,

Our first obligation as a leader is to define reality, the last is to say thank you, in between, be a servant.

Live that and you’re leading your team well.

Goodnight.

This is just an excerpt of David’s thoughts on leading well. Check out www.audiovideolighting.com for a more complete version of his perspective on what it means to lead a production team in the local church well.

Connect with David on Twitter: @davidleuschner

short term failure for long term success

6828955635_3aefa268bb_oIn an earlier blog post Tools Don’t Make the Craftsman, I mentioned that I was reading Neptune’s Inferno by James Hornfischer. I really loved this book and learn all kinds of new things about the amazing effort of the US Navy in the Pacific during World War II. While what we do as technical artists in the local church doesn’t even come close to the sacrifice of these men and women, there are definitely some great lessons to be learned.
One lesson involves training new officers. In the early days of the war, no one had any experience. Nobody had fought in a naval engagement before. As a result, the only way to get experience was to dive in and learn by doing. Unfortunately, this usually meant learning at the cost of people’s lives.
Again, not to compare situations, but this sound pretty similar to my own experience learning to do production. I was basically making it up as I went; learning along the way. Fortunately no lives were in danger (except for that close call with Mike Franks in the mid 90′s, that he hasn’t let me forget about). Since I was the most knowledgable person there, it was always the best it could be…which wasn’t saying much.
But what happened over time is that I gained more and more experience.
Now here’s where the US Navy really impressed me. Once an officer had some experience, they would pull them out of the fight and send them away from the front to train new officers. As you can imagine, most of these officers wanted to stay with their men and their ships to continue to fight the enemy.
In the short term, this meant that the Navy would continue to be led by inexperienced Captains and Commanders. But the leaders of the Navy held a longer view. They told these officers, “We need you at the front, but you can’t come back until you train 100 other people to be like you.”
As a result, the more time that passed, the number of experienced and well trained officers kept increasing. The Navy went from inexperienced officers, to a mixture of experienced and inexperienced, to a Navy full of highly trained and experienced leaders.
There are 2 things that really captured my imagination.
1. The Navy had the discipline to take out there best chance of immediate victories, i.e. leaving their experienced commanders at the front as long as possible, to invest in the next round of leaders.
While we might not be in a similar life and death struggle, what would your production team look like if you leveraged your star volunteers to start training other potential star volunteers? Instead of putting that volunteer behind the console each week, what if you pulled them off of the rotation so that they could focus on pouring in to one or more other team members?
2. The Navy took chances on the rookies. They knew their survival depended on giving people chances to succeed, which also meant their was a chance they could fail.
Any time you put someone new behind the ProPresenter computer, you are taking 2 chances. One chance that they fail, the other they succeed.
Failure is not something any of us love. It violates the value of creating a distraction free environment. Yet if we don’t take a chance on someone, eventually we won’t have anyone who can do it at all.
What if we could take the longer view. If they fail, we’ve learned where that person doesn’t fit and we can either move that person to a different role, or if we see potential we can keep giving them more chances to succeed. If they do succeed, we’ve just increased the capacity of our team.
Not only are we able to do more now, but we have engaged one more person to use their gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ. Everybody wins.
Are we willing to not be held hostage by the immediate needs of the moment to invest and risk with the next round of leaders? 

match what’s happening on stage

11261244424_aeca4a216e_kI don’t subscribe to many magazines, only because they just pile up on my desk. Lately, for whatever reason,  a small stack has developed, so I took the time to go through them the other day.

One article that caught my attention was about Elton John’s Diving Board Tour, especially since it was one of the last projects that Mark Fisher worked on. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Fisher’s work, more specifically the process of how he worked.

In the article, LD Patrick Woodroffe talked about how the show came together. It started with Sir Elton wanting to take his show on the road, and basically saying, whatever Mark and his team came up with for the production design would be fine. Talk about a blank check!

For many tech people I know, this would be the chance to try all the most cutting edge things I’ve been dreaming about. To pull out all the stops. Yet, here’s what Patrick said:

“The last thing you’d want to do in creating a rock show is to come up with a big concept that has nothing to do with the person sitting on the stage. It’s always been our view that you start with what’s on the stage and work from there.”

This is some wisdom.

No wonder Elton John trusts the people at Stufish so blindly; they have proven that they only want to create something that fits what he is trying to do. They don’t just want to take his money and do whatever they feel like with it. Their goal is to steward his trust and create something that will enhance the person and the music of Elton John.

For those of us doing production in the local church, it is so easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest. Or doing cool production-y things, for their own sake. What our churches need, is for us to have a similar attitude as the crew working with Mr. John.

What’s happening on our platform? How can we help enhance it? How can we make it the best version of itself?

Is your idea to fill your room with haze going to help make your services better?

Will a louder mix satisfy your own desires to feell the bass, but distract people from why they are in church in the first place?

Does all your crazy dutch angle camera shots help people engage with what’s happening on stage or is it just making them sick?

Taking Patrick’s advice will do at least two things for us, make our services better, and build loads of trust with whoever your version of Elton John may be.

who decides?

21407490_e45182a94a_oI like it loud.

I like lots of top light on the band.

I like san serif fonts.

I like to feel the kick drum in my chest.

These are my preferences and are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m only one person on a team of people with preferences of their own. So…who’s preferences matter? Who’s don’t?

If our services were put together based on everyone’s preferences, we probably wouldn’t even have a service. Or at least we would have a service that nobody really liked.

So what do we do? Who decides?

In our world today, there is such a high premium placed on the idea that everyone’s opinion matters, so this might feel pretty counter cultural, but unless the leader decides, we won’t really get anywhere important.

From the very top of your organization, for many of us that’s our church, there needs to be very clear idea of what we are trying to do. Not that the senior pastor needs to decide band arrangements or anything that detailed, but at the least they need to have empowered someone to make those decisions.

Then that person needs to empower her/his team to make the decisions necessary to pull a service together. But at the end of the day, someone needs to say what’s most important. When values clash, and they will, who decides the best way to go?

All of our situations are different, but regardless there should be someone we can look to for direction in those moments. When the audio engineer has a preference that clashes with the preference of the band leader, or the lighting designer as an idea of how dark it should be on stage that doesn’t line up with what the video director needs, who decides? I can tell you that it shouldn’t be those individuals, because we would never come to a decision.

If it is your job to decide, don’t make every decision, but help your team by arbitrating on values. You need to be the one to pick which value matters most in a given moment. It is up to you to develop a point of view and share it with the team often. As it turns out, your preferences matter the most. It might feel odd, but it is true.

Now, if it isn’t your job to decide, then get out of the way. Serve up your preference, but let your leader make the final decision.

My impression is that many of us tech people like to make decisions about audio or lighting or video that really aren’t ours to make. Work with your leader to figure out what you can decide and what you should defer to them on.

Who decides? The leader. Is that you or someone else? If it is you, do your team a favor and decide. If it isn’t you, do your leader a favor and let them decide.

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