no detail too small

The plan to transform a giant square room into an intimate venue for 8000 people

There are some days that I really love my job. I am currently in a run of days that are generally some of my best experiences in production, the Germany Leadership Summit. It happens every other year, and I have had the pleasure of leading these trips since 2005. I can’t even believe it.

I am usually more tired during these trips than for any other production that I get to be a part of, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. To build something from nothing and then watch thousands of German speaking people singing familiar songs in a language I don’t understand will never get old to me.

In the first few days of our experience, we are pretty much just getting stuff done: banging truss together, running hundreds of meters (yes, meters) of cable, hanging projectors and line arrays…pretty much building the environment.

Taken as a whole, it is a TON of work. It is so much, that it can almost seem insurmountable. However, in reality, the whole thing is made up of small, doable parts. Unwinding a cable, rigging a motor, aiming a projector. With the team I get to work with, these tasks are pretty straight forward, if not beneath their abilities. Yet here we find ourselves spending the majority of our time doing these things.

What I love so much about this team, is that while their talents are amazing, they are not too good to dive in and do whatever needs to get done. The other day, a team mate reminded me of a phrase that we used to say a lot: “Here to serve!” This phrase exemplifies the attitude of this production team.

We have a ton of little things to do, and we are going to kill it on each one of these. No detail is too small to not do our very best with. Especially on an event of this scale, the details all add up to something huge. Each tiny thing adds up to the whole. So if we are only doing an OK job along the way, that could potentially add up to disaster. Why take a chance that one small shortcut will come back to bite us later. Let’s do it right the first time.

My pastor, Bill Hybels, often says that God deserves our best, since God has only ever given us his best in the person of his son, Jesus. Excellence matters, but not just to be the best. Striving for excellence is a reflection on how we serve Christ. Are we giving our best, even in the small things, or are we looking for easy ways out as we go?

As we step into this event, we are striving to do our very best, even in (especially in) the smallest detail.

right now vs exact planning

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Lately, I have a noticed a difference in thinking between senior leaders and tech people. Senior leaders don’t really notice technology issues until they are issues, and they want them fixed immediately. Tech people on the other hand are always trying to plan for the issues, but really can’t do all the work of figuring things out until they have the green light.

Sooner or later this issue can set the two groups onto a collision course. Once we have the go ahead, we want to start teasing out every detail to make the very best choices for budget and capacity, all of which takes time. From leadership’s standpoint, once they say “go”, they are ready for it to happen.

So how do we handle this potential conflict? What is the balance between right now and the time required to plan every little detail?

A good starting point is to talk about what the goal is for the particular project. Is time of the essence? Is money tight? These two questions will help define which end of the spectrum your brain needs to think about this project.

FAST

If speed is the most important factor, money will probably not be spent in the most frugal fashion. When you are running fast, you end up making choices that are more expensive than if you had time to do the research necessary to figure out the best solution. If time matters the most, be ready to feel like you are throwing money around.

COST

If your budget is tight and therefore by default the most important value, you will most likely spend more time trying to figure out how to accomplish the goals and spend the least amount as possible.

At both extremes, there comes a time when you need to just get the work done. At a certain point, you just have to dive in and get it done. Otherwise we could research something to death looking for the cheapest or most precise answer. Or with speed being the highest value, get all caught up making sure we are doing the exact right thing and then not making any decisions.

Working in production as long as I have, I probably fall on the side of wanting to research as long as possible, to save the most amount of money as possible and come up with the perfect solution. As a result, it can sometimes feel to my leaders like I’m not getting anything done.

I love how Seth Godin talks about “shipping”. The idea that nothing will ever be fully done, and so you need to become disciplined to just get things out the door. Especially in the world of technology, the minute we decide to head in a certain direction, the technology will be obsolete. This can make the speed part of the equation so difficult to handle, because we want to get the most technology for the money.

So what is the right balance of speed and cost? Somewhere in between. When I think about it, it might have more to do with what will help our church the most right now? Where is the momentum? Will we lose it if we take too long to figure out the perfect solution? Maybe we’ll lose it if we hurry up and make the wrong decisions.

Wherever it is, make sure that you are on the same page with your senior leaders in each given situation.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Alan in Belfast

production from a pastor’s perspective

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Today’s post is by an old friend of mine. Steve Norman is currently the Lead Pastor at Kensington Community Church’s Troy Campus and we both started working at Kensington in the same era. The era when your office was in the copy room, or the warehouse area. Our paths have crossed and recrossed over the years, and I thought it would be great for the predominantly technical audience of this blog to hear about technology from the viewpoint of a pastor. Enjoy.

I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the church auditorium when it happened. I was a high school student trying to follow along with the pastor’s Sunday morning message and there was an audio glitch of some kind. And then my pastor did it. He called out the audio engineer from the stage. Not as a colleague and fellow team member, not as a gifted hardworking artist, but the “sound guy” who feel asleep at the wheel. I cringed.  And every time I’ve heard it done since, I still do.

I’ve been doing ministry in some kind of formal capacity for close to 20 years, but I’ve never had a class or workshop on how teaching pastors/communicators can better serve and coordinate with their production teams.

The truth is: most pastors don’t really know what you do, how you do it or how well you do it. They believe it matters, but as my story indicates, many speakers/teacher don’t publicly acknowledge their production teams until something goes wrong.

If you, however, want to take your working relationship with your pastor to the next level, allow me to offer a few simple suggestions:

1. Communicate. Then communicate some more.
Do you know what your pastor needs and expects from you? Does he or she know what you expect from them? Do you have a call time? Does the speaker honor it? Are you ready for the him or her if she does?

If the speaker is bringing CG or video, do you have a deadline you expect it by?
My team has made it crystal clear that if I don’t submit my CG by 12p on Friday, they may not be able to have it ready to run for our Saturday 5:30p service. It’s taken us some wrangling to get to a system that works for both of us, but when I respect their boundaries our dynamic is healthier.

Our stage manager, lets me know what shirts I shouldn’t wear because I’m on IMAG. It drives my crazy really, but I have to remember she’s working in my best interest. If the image on the screen is too busy, people can’t focus on what I want to say. Because of communication and over communication, I know our team is as committed to the message as I am, just from a different, yet necessary perspective.

2.  Collaborate
Ask your speaker, what their objectives are: for the day, for the series, for the ministry season.  If your speaker is anything like me, they have a horrible habit of waiting til the last minute to pull a talk together.  When you can, sit down with them and explain the kinds of ways that set design, lighting, audio, etc. can enhance where they want to go if they give you enough lead time to help them. This is the “help me, help you” conversation.

3. Celebrate
When your speaker honors a deadline; thanks one of your volunteers; or gets you their scriptures on time, celebrate them publicly with your team.  A little affirmation goes a long way in creating a culture where your teachers learn to value and elevate your teams.

As your begin to communicate, collaborate and celebrate together, then maybe, when they call your name from stage, it will simply be to remind the congregation how incredible your really are.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by J. Stephen Conn

whoever said collaboration would be easy?

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I was just thinking about this past Christmas production, and my initial thoughts have been focused on how well the service turned out and how many great comments I’ve received.

If I think a little longer, I start remembering all the things that didn’t go well. All the long days, all the delayed decisions, all the budget issues, all the creative differences, all the hard conversations…all the, all the, all the.

If I stretch my memory far enough back, it is quickly apparent that most large event processes that I have been involved in have been flawed in some way. There are two conclusions I can draw from this…either I’m the common denominator and I’m the problem, in which case I should probably consider a different line of work, or pulling off large events is hard work.

My friend Blaine Hogan and I have talked a few times about the fact that collaboration is hard work. In Genesis 3, God said that as a consequence of the Fall, the ground would now be cursed…meaning that we would be toiling long and hard to make anything. Work would be difficult.

As a nine on the Enneagram scale, I work really hard to make sure that everyone is happy, which I realize is not actually possible, especially in a large event collaborative process. Somewhere along the way, I assumed that everyone needs to be happy for a process to go well. The reality is that, while these two things aren’t mutually exclusive, neither one is the ultimate goal.

Did the event we were collaborating on, work? For those of us in church production, did the service help move people closer to Christ regardless of where they are on their spiritual continuum? I agree that it is too simplistic to say that the “product” is the only thing that matters, since if the process is bad for long enough, people won’t stick around to do it again.

For me, every event comes with its own set of challenges and each event also comes with a list of things to learn from those challenges.

True collaboration takes work…to brainstorm, to work with constraints, to trust each other. It also requires tenacity to learn from the past, so that we are always creating better processes to get to the finish line.

Easter, here we come!

 

 

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Alex De Mey

another post about volume

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that tech people tend to like things louder than most. How else can you get the drums to sound as amazing as your new micing technique requires? Worship leaders also like the energy that comes from a louder mix.

For senior pastors, the volume can be a very sticky subject with the congregation, and I think there are probably some larger issues than the decibel level on Sunday morning that require his/her attention. I don’t know about your senior pastor, but mine isn’t ready to die on the hill of kicking subwoofers or the perfect drum mix.

Your pastor needs to know that you have the best for the whole church in mind when you or your team are mixing audio. Unfortunately it is really easy for production people to communicate something quite different: that your killer mix matters more than a bunch of old people complaining.

This brings up a couple questions…

  • What motivates your mix? Is it for it to sound as amazing as it can for the sake of sounding amazing (listen to those drums!)? Or is it to sound amazing so that the most people possible in your congregation can experience God?
  • Do you have a good understanding of what your church leadership needs from the mix? Who is the target audience? What is your church’s “sound”? What does the mix need to accomplish?

It needs to really clear between you, your team, your worship pastor, your producer…all the way up to the senior pastor on what the church’s stance on the mix and volume should be. From there, your pastor needs to know that you are dealing with it.

And by dealing with it, I don’t mean cranking it up so the drums sound incredible. Dealing with it is being tenacious to make it sound better and better, and then balancing that with what is best for the whole church.

Your senior pastor doesn’t want the mix to offend people. If they are going to be offended, let the Holy Spirit to do that.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by fd

at what cost perfection?

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I had a conversation with a co-worker a few weeks back and we talked about whether or not perfection was the goal of any production. After writing a blog post, then thinking some more about it, I have another idea.

If making things distraction free is just another way of saying perfect, how can we avoid the idea of perfectionism?

Maybe I just have a problem with the word “perfect”. What exactly is it? What does it apply to? How is it achieved? If we are talking about mics on and lights pointed at the right things and graphics being spelled correctly, then sure. Let’s make it perfect.

However, most of what we do in production can be subjective and the idea “perfect” breaks down. What is the perfect mix? Perfect IMAG? What is the perfect service?

If perfection is the ultimate goal, how far are we willing to go? How redundant are our systems? Do we run a generator during every service just in case the power gets interrupted? Do we buy two of everything just in case? Should everyone know how everything works so that everyone can know the answers to every possible question? Should we stay all night and rearrange the stage to make it “perfect”?

The list of things we could do to eliminate risk and ensure perfection would be a never-ending list, but most of us don’t have the many resources. Time. People. Money. And no amount of either of these three things ensures perfection.

This is where I really love the idea of excellence over perfection.

“Doing the best with what you have.” is one way to define excellence.This really help put things in perspective. You can only do your best, which sometimes might appear as perfection. This concept takes into account all the things that you’ve never experienced them before, and it factors in the reality that stuff breaks. It considers the skills of your team and the type of equipment you have.

Another definition of excellence is “being better today than yesterday.” This considers learning from mistakes and new experiences each day to keep getting better and better.

From another perspective, what are you characterized by? Do the same mistakes happen over and over again? Are technical distractions the norm for you? Or are these isolated incidents that only stick out because your congregation is so used to the amazing distraction free environment that you create on a weekly basis?

So the goal isn’t perfection, but doing your best, and being better today than yesterday…which hopefully includes things being flawless.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by marsmet541

Christmas past

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Coming up with the perfect Christmas program seems really simple when you see what churches all over the world are doing. It all looks so easy and magical. The reality is much different. First off, there is probably nothing even close to a perfect program. Second, developing an effective Christmas service (or any event for that matter) requires tons of work, lots of collaboration, and probably even more compromise. Easy isn’t one of the options.

For the Willow team this year, we had our share of ups and downs to get to where our program ended up. Is it perfect? No. But it is a product of our best effort, given our abilities, given our limitations, given our resources. And with all of that, it is a really good Christmas program.

Without question, there are things I would do differently. There are things I wish others had done differently. If we were going to take this show on the road, then we’d be able to make some more tweaks and turn it into a “better” version of itself…but we aren’t.

However, as Seth Godin talks about quite a bit, there is a time for planning and tweaking, but there is also a time to ship; a time to stop adjusting and get your product out there.

All along the way, we tried to make the best decisions we could, based on the information of the moment. Looking back is easy. Knowing what I would do differently is the easy part. Living in the moment and making decisions along the way is not easy to do. You can only do your best.

Wishing the last event were better does’t really solve the problem. Looking towards the next big event, the goal will be to build on the successes of this event and to learn from our “mistakes”.

I’m really proud of the work our team has done to make this Christmas amazing. Hard working, highly creative people, creating in community for the benefit of our congregation and their friends. In spite of whatever could have gone better, this is a Christmas to remember.

Here are some pictures of production elements. Some that made it into the program and some  that didn’t …and that’s OK.

Here are a couple of short videos of a stage transition that never happened. It was cool, but in the end, didn’t help tell the story.

Wagon spin

Wagon spin wide

responding to complaints

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I’m pretty sure it only happens at my church, but from time to time someone complains about it being too loud. I’ve written a few posts already about how loud is too loud, which addresses the philosophies around volume at church, but having values around why your volume doesn’t stop some people from thinking it’s too loud.

Recently we adjusted some setting for the low end in our PA in an attempt to solve a few problems, but we ended up creating new low end issues. As a result, we got more than our usual amount of written and verbal complaints about it being too loud.

For us, we have a pretty decent understanding of how loud it should be, and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that some people will still complain. So how do you handle those complaints? Since there is no way to make everyone happy with the volume, what do you do?

I have a theory that people want to feel heard. So here’s what I typically do when I receive a volume related complaint.

I first reach out via email explaining that I received their email about it being too loud and that since I am responsible for the live production elements at our church, I would love to talk further. I then ask for the best way to reach them, then wait to hear back from them. I try to respond within 24 hours of getting their original email.

This quick response communicates that someone is listening and cares about their opinion. It also puts the ball in their court to respond back. If I hear back from them (which I normally do) we then arrange to talk on the phone or meet in person.

When we finally talk, I ask them a series of fact finding questions:

  • How long have you been coming? How often do you attend?
  • Was this an isolated volume issue or is it something you feel on a regular basis?
  • Where do you normally sit?
  • Do you notice if the volume changes based on worship leader/worship style?

Once we talk through these, I usually walk through the following:

  • The locations in our auditorium that tend to be quieter.
  • That we keep track of our dB levels over time and know scientifically that we aren’t causing permanent damage to people’s hearing.
  • Our philosophy on volume…in a nut shell, we are trying to match the energy in the room and create a great worship experience for the largest number of people.
  • We are constantly evaluating volume and trying to get this balance right.

9 times out of 10 this conversation goes very well and the experience leaves people feeling heard and valued. In the past, we used to send people an email with documentation and an open letter (that you can read here). These are necessary to have on hand, but they don’t address the real issues, which is a member of the congregation feeling like a someone at the church actually cares. The letter alone is too cold and impersonal.

Picking up the phone to a potentially hostile conversation is not my idea of fun. OK, who am I kidding? Picking up the phone at all is one of my least favorite things.

In all the years that I have been making these particular types of phone calls, I have never had a bad experience. At the end of a conversation, I have made a great connection with someone in the congregation that I serve.

Responding to complaints is a necessary part of leadership. Responding to the production related complaints is a tangible way for your to help carry a small part of the leadership burden for your senior pastor.

 

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by MTSOfan 

ordinary people

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Something that I shared with the Willow production team at our Christmas party…

 

This year, I decided to participate in an advent experience. It is nothing more than reading everyday from John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy (BTW, its free). While reading through this, it struck me that it is probably the first time I’ve done something advent-y since I was a kid and we lit a candle on a horizontal wreath each Sunday during December.

So far, it has been a good thing to help me wrap my mind around what Christmas is actually is about.

On the 4th of month, the reading talked about how God orchestrated the prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem, using Caesar Augustus to have this idea of a census to get Mary and Joseph away from Nazareth. I love this picture of God moving the chess-like pieces around to create the perfect situation for His son to enter the world.

The funny part, is that once they get to Bethlehem, God has forgotten to provide them a place to sleep? After all the work of moving governments around, God the Father simply forgets to make a reservation?

It turns out that what I would have done, or what might make the most sense to our human minds, was exactly what God decided not to do..be born into Caesar Augustus’ family and then just take over. To change the world through strength. He could have, but didn’t.

Instead God chose to use Mary and Joseph, her sister Elizabeth, a bunch of shepherds…basically normal people. Ordinary. Flaws and all. He chose an unlikely place for Jesus to be born…one that people could say “Only God” about.

God wanted to make it very obvious that

1. He could orchestrate things however He wanted.

2. He was intimately involved.

3. He wanted to use the ordinary to redeem the world.

As I look around the technical arts community, I see God’s plan continuing today. No offense, but we are a pretty ordinary bunch. If we were to dive into all of our stories, we would find a similar theme to Mary and Joseph’s situation: God’s orchestrating hand; that He is intimately involved with each aspect of our story and that he has been using us to help redeem the world.

If I were to orchestrate the perfect plan to help save the world, I still think I would imagine it totally different from how God has designed it. He has decided to use us…OK, I guess.

However, if God’s plan is to use ordinary people, I can’t imagine a better group of ordinary people that I’d rather be associated with. He has used our uniqueness and our specific make up to reach out to the world. He has used us as technical artists to help get His message out. I love that there is a place for each of us to contribute to His plan.

We’ve all been a part of many unique experiences this year, all of which God has used and is using to help God’s people in all our churches become more Christ-like.

Thanks for your willingness to let God use your ordinariness to redeem the world.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Tiziano Caviglia

don’t be a Christmas wuss

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Here it comes. Christmas production time.

I was going through the calendar and marking off all the nights that I am going to be at rehearsal this month. Needless to say, it was a sobering exercise.

For those of us in the technical arts of the local church, this is our busy season. Preparing a service for the largest numbers of guests that we will see all year. We want it to be flawless (not perfect, see last post) and we want people to have an experience with God, maybe for the first time. There can be lots of pressure riding on this one service.

I don’t know about you, but as December lengthens, I get more and more exhausted. I have less and less patience and more and more anxiety. As the late nights start piling up, it an be really easy to justify sleeping in and having my wife take care of everything at home. After all, I’m killing it at work so that people’s eternities can be different. I deserve a little extra sleep, right?

After a few years living my Decembers this way, I decided that I was being a wuss. Sure, maybe I am working hard, but my wife has essentially become a single parent for the month. Talk about difficult.

I would encourage all of you with families to suck it up.

Andy Stanley talks a lot about the idea of cheating your workplace, not your family, in his book When Work and Family Collide. While what we do for our Christmas services is critical, it shouldn’t come at the expense of our families.

2 things:

1.  Cast vision to you family for why you are gone so much. Help them understand what your church is trying to accomplish and how your whole family can help sacrifice for the sake of the gospel to be shared.

2.  Help get your kids ready for school. Engage in normal activities with your family when you can. Build a snowman. Make time for meaningful conversation with your spouse. Go out of your way to be “On” at strategic times.

Christmas is tough for the technical artist. No argument there.

Rise above how you feel and invest in your family this season.

 

 

Attribution Some rights reserved by Scott Schram

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