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Simple Stage Planning: Four Easy Steps

How do you render a stage setup? That’s the question posed to me by a reader. It’s a simple question that leads to a simple, yet lengthy response. Setting up a stage is more than just placing gear and placing people, it’s about… consistency.

The email included this statement “Most of the time we just show up to church and spend a lot of time just trying to figure out where to put the instruments.” This means that right off the bat, there are two problems:

1. The sound tech’s don’t know, in advance, who’s playing.

This is a problem for several reasons; they can’t set up the equipment stations on the stage before the band arrives, they don’t know who/what they have to work with until the last minute, and they waste time each week doing the same thing that should only take a short period of time.

2. The band members don’t know where they should be on stage.

This is a problem for several reasons as well; they waste time talking about setup instead of time that could be spent practicing, limited practice time means less time for the sound tech to get a good mix, and finally, the band doesn’t have a feeling of closeness on the stage that comes from familiarity. Specifically, in this last instance, I’m talking about the drummer always being on the right side and the guitarist always being on the left, and so forth and so on. Walking on a stage and being in the same place week after week, provides a level of comfort and ease – because it’s familiar.

What can be done?

There is a solution to the madness! It requires the work of only two people. And you’ll find you can leave the ibuprofen at home.

Find out who’s in the band! Get a list from the worship leader of the band members. If there are different bands, then a list for each and what they do; sing, play guitar, play & sing, etc. In the case of revolving band members on a single band, find out the typical setup; one acoustic guitar, one bass, two backup singers, etc. Now you are equipped with a good expectation of the requirements of each band.

Find out who’s playing next week – every week. A few days before the service, check with the worship leader as to which band is playing and if there are any changes based on the list you got in step #1. After a while, the worship leader should start emailing you this information each week without being reminded.

Determine the stage layout. Grab some graph paper and draw up your stage. Make a few copies. Now draw a different setup for each band. Nothing complex, just write the person and their setup like “Chris; Ac. Guitar.” Once you have this for all the bands and the band members, you have your layout. You can also add notes like “Chris; Ac. Guitar. #5” so now you know which stage jack Chris will be using. This makes mixer setup a breeze.

An alternate approach is creating only one schematic of the stage and labeling all the inputs. Then use a spreadsheet program to list all the input numbers and enter the usage next to each, for example: “[5] [Acoustic Guitar].” Duplicate the spreadsheet for each band and adjust accordingly.

Change the layout. Yes, after doing all that work, you have to change it; but not immediately. Try these setups with the band(s) and see if they like it. They might say they prefer certain people/instruments to be near each other. Change it for the next service and if they like it better, then you have a new layout.

Once you have this system in place, you can have the stage set up before the band arrives, they will have more time for practicing the songs, and they will benefit from a familiar setup each week. Familiarity leads to better music because the chaos and uncertainty will be removed.

Using the above steps, your service setup can be as easy as getting a band list mid-week, comparing it to your existing band layouts, tweaking appropriately, and setting up the stations on the stage before the band even walks into the sanctuary.

Question(s): What method do you use for determining stage setup? What problems have you encountered?

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chrishuff@churchleaders.com'
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. He also teaches all aspects of live audio production, from the technical fundamentals to creative music mixing to keeping your sanity. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com