If you were watching the ABC network after 11 pm on December 31, 2016, you saw what has been called one of the most disastrous New Year’s Eve performances in recent live broadcast history. Soon after Mariah Carey started her vocals, she stopped singing. Mariah remained onstage throughout the entire song, and it became clear that the vocals coming through the sound system were from a recording. Overall, this was a very bad moment for a live show. Now blaming and finger pointing are going around, in an attempt to explain and/or place blame for what happened.
As I thought about what happened, I asked myself, Is there anything I can learn from what I saw on TV that night? Could it affect how I do my job and how our tech team enhances our weekend service experience?
DISCLAIMER: I know it may be odd to use this experience to make a comparison to a worship experience. The environments and goals are complete opposites. So let me make very clear, this blog discusses the technical side of what we do in churches every week, and it is nothing beyond that.
Leading people into a time of worship does not happen only from the stage. What we do behind the scenes is a big part of the worship service, and it is not always noticed. But you and I know the value of what we do every weekend.
With that said, many of us need to consider our weekend services as LIVE events. In fact, that’s what they are. These LIVE events rely heavily on technology, including high-end projection systems, IMAG, HD camera operators, online broadcasting, multi-campus viewing, live broadcasting, etc. Looking at our weekend services as LIVE events does not take away the value of the worship experience in our lives every weekend. But we are the production teams for LIVE events. This means we need to understand our jobs as programming and production teams with checks and balances to prevent technical failure from taking away the full experience worship service can be.
- Sound check should include more than sound operators, singers or musicians. A sound check should include members of the tech crew as well. As an example, if a singer does not show up for a full sound check, the live presentation may hit some bumps. If the directors and camera operators are at a sound check, they can preview and plan stage shots. If the graphics or lyrics operator is at the sound check, they can preview the graphics, fix inaccurate lyrics, and test sound levels for videos. A technician can test the sound, cameras, and graphics for online broadcast. Depending on the level of your church production, other tech crew members may need to participate in sound checks.
- Keep communication channels open and create ways for communication to flow between stage participants and tech crew. Most of us who work in church production know that miscommunication can happen. Open communication channels help to resolve issues when they arise faster and more precisely. When things go wrong, you can only rely on each other to resolve them, and having a way to communicate, is the best way to do it. During Mariah’s live broadcast, the communication that came from stage was mainly to the audience, and it was full of frustration and disappointment. When taking this same scenario to a worship service, communication that is not handled properly can cause a chain reaction much worse than what we saw on TV. A church service is not about the ratings, but it’s all about the worship experience.
- Develop a Plan B forevery major risk you predict could go wrong. When dealing with electronics and technology, anything and everything can go wrong. And it will happen at the worst time possible. On Christmas Eve 2016, my church offered four services. After about an hour of a trouble-free rehearsal, the main graphics/lyrics computer stopped responding. The operational system would not restart, and the first Christmas Eve service would begin in about an hour. Luckily, I had decided about a year ago to have a backup computer available for graphics/lyrics and lights. Our weekly routine included uploading the graphics/lyrics computers with all the content needed for the weekend and to program the lighting board before the first service. Then we’d upload the backup computer with content for both areas. That way, if the lighting board failed, we could plug in another computer and run lights from the backup. We used this same backup for graphics/lyrics. After one year of following this procedure without experiencing any problems, we used the backup computer for a critical event, Christmas Eve services. In less than one hour, we swapped computers, updated content, and projected the graphics/lyrics for the first Christmas Eve service of what was a very long day. Only one thing is 100% certain with technology, including computers and electronic devices. At some point, they will fail. And it usually happens at the worst possible moment. So as much as your infrastructure allows you to do this, have a backup system for microphones, projection systems, sound systems, projection lamps, lighting, etc. You won’t be able to create a backup for everything you have, but it is a good practice to identify what you can do, and have a plan for it.
What we saw on live TV on New Year’s Eve is a great reminder that the audience members are the ones who really suffer themost when things go wrong. I don’t think those of use watching on TV and those in New York right in front of the stage hoped for something to go badly wrong. On the contrary, we all hoped for a great show, something that would blow our minds technically and vocally.
We don’t expect a worship service that blows our minds technically and vocally when we go to church every week. Instead, we come together with the expectation of meeting God through a meaningful time of worship. Sometimes this includes watching a powerful video testimony, hearing His word through a spoken message, and more. We want to have all this with NO DISTRACTIONS, and that pretty much sums up our job. It happens from both sides, on stage and off stage. When your tech crew understands the importance of meaningful rehearsals, good communication, and backup plans, you won’t be able to always prevent things from going wrong. But when things happen, you will be able to resolve the problem faster and more precisely.
These are my thoughts for today. Feel free to comment, share and connect.
Have a blessed day.