Where the Wild Things Are: Taming the Stage

“Everything was fine until the band showed up!” Truth resides in jest so, while funny, this statement is also true. Techs can lay out the stage, prep the runs, line-check the inputs and still, something goes wrong when the musicians begin to play. It may be a bad instrument cable, a flaky phantom power supply or the bassist’s nine-volt battery going down, but it seems something always happens. Unfortunately, this scenario is constant and universal. To tame the stage beast, then, here are some things you can do to make the lion sleep tonight.

Never have a single point of failure. If the lead vocal is on a wireless mic, even a $4000 wireless mic, at some point it will fail. This is why there should always be a wired SM-58 on a stand nearby ready to go. Note: no one ever got fired for using a wired SM-58. Also, a powered speaker stashed just off-stage and accompanied by an attached AC extension cable and a 50’ XLR cable can be a lifesaver.

Assume everything is broken all the time. “It worked last night” is not an acceptable answer when something goes wrong. Whether the gear sits in a climate controlled auditorium or bounces around in a trailer between events, it must be checked each time. Our assumption of “today it will die” makes the act of the line check much more important. For those lonely late night adventures, the Whirlwind Q-Box is perfect for single crew stage work, since it functions as both a mic source as well as a local speaker output, making it easy for one person to test all the lines on the platform.

Realize it all works until you need it to work. Naturally, re-testing of inputs should be done after rehearsal and before the service begins. This action gives enough time to remedy any last minute issues. But, in addition, use the headphones to cue the WL and pastor mic just before they walk on stage. This way you will know if anything has faltered in the last moment. Typical problems here include a bodypack transmitter the pastor turned off, an ear set mic boom that is pointing to the sky and brand new Procell batteries that died after fifteen minutes of use. It will be too late to remedy the problem, but you can make a preplanned arm movement or other cue to let them know to go directly to the back-up mic.

Mind the small things. Gaff tape is wonderful for keeping a stage clean, safe and organized. But, it should be laid down with a pull-off tab made by folding under a half-inch of tape at one end. This prevents the tape sticking to itself and becoming a mess later. Ear set mics should be placed on the user’s head with enough cable slack flipped under for easy side-to-side head movement. The cable should be attached to clothing with clear body tape, again with a tab for simple removal after service. Batteries should be used once in a primary service and then relegated to use in rehearsal or in non-critical environments.

Have a procedure. Write down how things are to be done, “decently and in order.” Make the set-up a matter of muscle memory so the same operations are done in the same way every time.

Recognize all you can do is all you can do. At the end of the day, when we have done all we can, it is in God’s hands. Our job is to prevent and then handle as many technical obstacles as humanly possible. After that, it is a spiritual matter that God deals with, as He deems best.

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