Whether it’s a candlelight Christmas service or a living nativity with real camels and kings, you need to know what you can and can’t do. If it’s a major mega-production, the plans should’ve been revealed long ago. If your Christmas service is more like your normal meetings, you may not need as much preparation. Preparation is the key. Have a plan. Plan the work and work the plan. However monumental or sublime the challenge, approach the celebration of the birth of Christ with the right attitude and reflect the source of our celebration.  

Practical Sound Tech Prep Tips for Christmas Service

Know your limits. Set boundaries. The Christmas season is supposed to be a time of  peace and tranquility, but as we all know, it can be one of the most stressful times of the year; and with all the excess responsibilities with work, family and our church, it has the potential to wreak havoc on our spirit and make us wonder why we signed up for this. I’m speaking especially to the volunteer. I want you to remember why you do this. I hope it’s not for the program itself, but for the ones you are hoping to reach with the message of Christ.

So here is a short list of things I thought of in helping you to prepare.

The Plan:

If you remember the Christmas service from last year, it may help you to prepare for the upcoming program. Will it be the same? Similar? Entirely different? Is there anything from last year that needed improving? It was perfect? Really? What went wrong last year that could be remedied this time around? What does the Christmas service look like? Does it have dramatic elements? Will our worship team (A, B or C)) be involved? Will there be extra musicians/choir involved? Will we be using tracks, loops and clicks? Will we record the program? What additional considerations for audio will be required?

Do you have the necessary equipment to facilitate the program requirements? No? Do you have a budget to supply the necessary equipment and resources?

Let’s start with wireless microphones. How many do we have? How many do we need?

With a drama or skit, we typically require additional wireless microphones than we would normally use on a Sunday morning. The budget may not allow you to purchase the additional systems so renting may be an option. You must realize that rental houses need to have advance notice to 1) get you what you need and 2) have time to coordinate the radio frequencies with your current systems. Unlike analog wireless systems, digital wireless (2.4gHz and similar) operate outside of the TV bands (where analog lives) and are much easier to add without having to coordinate. You may want to purchase the extra systems at least in part instead of renting all of the additional units.

You need to know if there are extra musicians, actors, choir/ensembles in the program so that you can provide necessary equipment or not.

  • Microphones (Condensers for the choir or string ensemble)
  • Direct Boxes
  • Microphone and Music stands
  • Cables: Microphone, Instrument, and Speaker
  • Batteries
  • New Drum Heads and tuning
  • Extra guitar and bass strings
  • Piano tuning
  • Monitors: Wedges (Floor monitors), Hot Spots or In-ear systems
  • Loudspeakers:  enough to cover the room including overflow
  • Backup systems: What do you have to back up systems in case of failure?
  • A mixer with enough inputs and outputs. (If your present console isn’t sufficient, you may need to add a sub-mixer.)

If the production is much larger than normal, you will have to consider having extra boots on the ground to help. Who will you recruit? Find dedicated people. This is my first and foremost requirement. Commitment is paramount. Even in small productions, having help will relieve a lot of stress with wrapping cables, setting up microphones, assisting musicians with monitoring, even filling in for someone who may get sick (you) or in the worst case, doesn’t show up at all.

You may need: additional personnel to distribute wireless microphones backstage. You may require a monitor engineer or a recording engineer with a separate mix depending on the scope of the event (easy to do with digital mixers and wireless remote control). With additional personnel, you’ll need to communicate with them, so consider incorporating an intercom system.

The Schedule:

Will you be required to be at rehearsals?  Even if you are not required to, I would highly recommend being present at every one. How many will there be? When are they scheduled? What are your conflicts? Do you have someone you can share the responsibilities with or a substitute? From the plan you’ve been provided, make sure that you have everything you need ready (don’t worry, there will be surprises, so assume that) before the first rehearsal.

  • Have some board tape to mark your inputs/outputs. (Digital Mixers with scribble strips won’t need it)
  • Diagram your stage plot
  • Have plenty of carpet-matching gaff tape handy to prevent someone from tripping over cables
  • Take time to do a line check and conduct a proper soundcheck (to optimize the microphone levels)
  • Record every rehearsal
  • Save your settings (again, an easy thing to do with digital mixers)
  • What are the dates and times of the program?
  • Do you have a backup plan? Snow dates (if you live north of the Mason-Dixon)?

Stay in constant communication with all the parties involved and debrief after each rehearsal so that, by the time the program is presented, you will have worked out as many of the kinks as possible. Make sure to walk the room and upon the platform. Communicate with all the parties involved to ensure they are getting what they need and you’re getting what you need.

Children can be difficult to reinforce with microphones, so a little trick I’ve learned along the way is to record them in the rehearsals, the drama or the choir, and play it back for them to hear.

In many cases, it encourages them to speak or to sing louder. In fact, I have at times played back the recording of the kids singing while they are singing live in the program to reinforce their own voices.

Take the time to rest. Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and protect. You’re going to need it.

Set some boundaries and know your limitations. Learn to say no to things you just can’t do. Keep things in their proper perspective. This is Christmas.  God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (and Ladies).  I appreciate all of you and your call to support and serve the church in this way. Be blessed and let me know how your Christmas service went. I’d love to hear from you.

About The Author

Doug Gould is a veteran of the Pro Audio and Music Technology Industry for almost 30 years, serving in management roles at Shure, Tascam and E-Mu Systems and has been a worship leader, musician and tech at various churches for almost as long. He is CEO and Founder of Worship MD (Market Development) a consulting firm that helps professional audio and music technology manufacturers build relationships with the church through education.

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