Around this time of year come the big Christmas events, and with big events come lots of PA. Whilst most of the time I do sound it's a very ad-hoc affair, these big events are too strapped for time to work things out on the fly, so they get a plan
In this post I look at some principles to apply to PA planning to help big events run smoothly.
Before I start, I should probably clarify that these are solely aimed at the kind of amateur events Churches and CUs might put on around Christmas, and these are in no way meant to replace the thoughts of a professional production manager. In short, if your event looks like this photo, you might know better than I do. However, to the skilled amateur who needs to get twice the normal job done in half the normal time, the advice below may help.
1: Write a Plan
The intention is to create a document that gives the team members all the information they need, so that I don't get asked too many questions. My plans will give a rough overview of timing for setup, channel lists, essential cues and much more.
The act of writing the plan helps to spot lots of the problems before them come up - all the channels of the mixer (or mixers, in come cases) can be lain out, giving a quick indication if there are more channels required than available. It also allows the number of mics etc. required to be counted, so extras can be hired.
I've generally found more detail is better, and it's hard to go too far on this. The idea is that most questions should be easily found within the plan, so I can spend the day getting set up, rather than explaining to others what to set up and how. I'll print out at least on per team member, send out digital copies, and put a couple of print-outs in key locations like the multicore and FOH. That way there can be no excuse for asking me where to plug a mic in.
2: Set the Rules
Once a year, "The Rules"
come out. Whilst I tent to avoid leading in such ways most of the time, "The Rules"
have proven to be an effective way of keeping the team efficient on big events. These rules have proven good for me, but may not work for everyone. They also require just the right amount of self-assurance & ability to pull off - if the balance is wrong, you may just look like a horrible person.
- Toby is “right”. Once we’re on site, treat everything Toby says as right - this isn’t about being dictatorial, simply that we don’t have time to discuss things. Discussion of “right” is fine whilst commenting on this document, and discussing it over breakfast, after that just trust I know best!
- If Toby tells you to do something, do it as quick as possible. I ask things when they need to be done, so say otherwise, so assume requests are more urgent than what you’re doing.
- No, we don’t need help, just let us get on with it. In general don’t accept help from anyone who hasn’t read this plan - it’ll be quicker to do it ourselves, PA team members are a possible exception.
- Toby’s sorry for being stressed!
You'll notice the rules are carefully worded, and carefully explained. Whilst I can't claim to be right all the time, on site the last thing that's needed is a long discussion on how the speakers should be set up, for instance. The team is given chances to change what's planned in advance instead. The second rule dovetails into this, and is mainly there so I can re-jig priorities on site, having had some hairy incidents in the past.
The rule about help is very important to me - lots of people try to be helpful, but actually just slow things down, so I'd rather they didn't, as we've planned the whole thing to be completed with the expected number of people. I've been proven right on this on too many occasions, usually leading to the last rule getting repeated!
3: The Traditional Tech Team Breakfast
This is the most important part of the plan. The morning of the event we will go for a full English breakfast. The purpose of this is threefold - making sure we've got enough energy for the job, spending some social time together as a team, and discussing the plan.
We will read through the plan, I'll clarify anything that isn't as obvious as it should be, and we'll go through any questions and suggestions.