A cluttered stage can be frustrating for musicians, staff, and volunteers, not to mention an eyesore for onlookers. A messy stage can also be reflection of a leader’s standards- similar to the impression we get when we walk into a messy office.
A clean stage is not only aesthetically pleasing; it provides a productive workflow environment and makes for a more enjoyable experience. Let’s take a look at a few ideas that can help in organizing and cleaning up a stage.
Even though you might not have a big stage area, designate regions that keep certain equipment, instruments, and cables in that one area. It might be as simple as dividing the stage in two with a left and right zone. In larger setups you may have separate zones for drums, keyboards, guitars, lead vocals, background vocals, choir, etc.
The point of making zones is all about cable management. This starts with making sure all the cables in the same zone follow the same path to their destination point and don’t cross through the middle of other zones. Nothing looks worse than a stage where all the cables are run “as the bird flies” to their destination. Run cables together in the same straight line and right angled corners. Cables from another zone may meet up with and join the pathway of a different zone. To avoid interference, don’t run your audio or video cables parallel with power cords. If you have to come close to power, run your A/V cables across the power line at ninety degrees.
Instead of running every cable to one point, consider getting a sub-snake or two that can aggregate all the cables from/to one zone into a single run. This is often used for drums where you might have eight or more sources (e.g. kick, snare, hi-hat, tom1, tom2, tom3, overhead left, and overhead right). Instead of running eight 50′ mic cables to the input box, connect eight 6′-10′ mic cables to a sub-snake input/output box beside the drums that has a single cable run to the main input box.
Sub-snakes become even more efficient when they are digital. There are boxes which carry all the audio and the power for phantom inputs via a simple Cat5/6 cable run. If you implement a breakout box that accepts XLR (phantom), balanced line level as well as guitar level inputs, you eliminate the need for direct boxes.
Consider Floor Pockets
If you are in a permanent facility, floor pockets provide a great way to hide cable clutter by essentially burying the sub-snake concept under the stage. Floor pockets can be ordered in popular, off-the-shelf configurations or custom fabricated to fit your exact needs. Companies such as ACE Backstage (www.acebackstage.com) can configure a floor pocket to include a combination of any audio, video or computer connectors available today – from RGB to Ethercon to HDMI to USB.
When a particular stage configuration invariably happens to not be set up next to a floor pocket, you can simply take a Cat5/6 cable from the floor pocket to the area you need inputs/outputs and place a breakout box.
Wireless microphones have been used in live production for decades and there are a number of reputable companies making an array of solutions. Obviously wireless mics or instrument inputs clean up your stage by eliminating cables but they also providing freedom and flexibility of movement to the leader or performing musician.
Avoid going the cheaper route with wireless solutions. You want to get a solid solution that sounds good, can handle multiple frequencies and minimizes interference.
Decide who really needs to be wireless. Anyone standing or sitting in one spot doesn’t really need to be wireless. At that point the only reasons to do so is to eliminate one cable or simple convenience – but that choice is determined by budget.
Some additional benefits include less tripping hazards (especially for mobile musicians) and the added benefit of less cable breakage from plugging and unplugging cable.
A Quiet Stage is a Clean Stage
When it comes to monitoring – managing wedges, amps, power, and cabling from instruments can pose some stage clutter problems. In order for vocalists to hear themselves they need a good monitor setup and like having their own mix. If you are able to take care of the monitoring needs for the band, all the vocals and choir, you then have a lot of equipment on stage that is bulky and creating more sound sources.
To combat this we see a high percentage of churches moving to IEMs (in-ear monitors) for their musicians and lead vocalists. This replaces traditional stage monitors and wedges while still providing a clear monitor mix.
The other trend is guitarists and bassists going direct from their effects processors, thereby eliminating the need to have big amps on stage. However, even if you do want to keep a unique guitar sound by micing a specific amp, consider putting the amp backstage in an enclosed 3’x3’x3′ “dog house” where you can still mic the sound but don’t need to take up the space on stage.
Not only will these solutions clean up your stage, they will quite dramatically improve the house sound. Front of house no longer has to battle loud stage wash, slapback, or feedback.
When you move to using IEMs you need some way to manage the sound going to everyone’s ears. Many churches do not have the ability or resources to have a specific monitor/mixer position that manages everyone on IEMs. The more efficient solution in this case is to let each musician manage their own monitor mix with a Personal Mixer that they connect their headphones or IEMs to. This enables personalization, flexibility and in fact, a better performance, giving the musician the ability to control exactly what they want to listen to.
Personal mixing and in-ear monitoring are a big key in cleaning up your stage – and getting a better sound.
Clean Your Room
I guess Mom had a point when she told us to clean up our rooms. It is not just about the room being clean but the discipline of being organized, considering others, and headspace. If you don’t have an eye for detail, assign the task to someone who does and teach and maintain the standard to your musicians so it becomes second nature to the way they set up. Remember, it reflects on you as the leader.
To reference a Biblical principle – God is not the God or author of confusion or disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33) so let’s do our part in that and keep our stage “rooms” clean. Who knew – we might also end up getting a better sounding room too!
John has been leading worship and performing for over twenty-two years, touring and speaking in the US, UK, and Canada. He currently leads the worship and media team at Village Church in Vancouver. John is Vice President of Technology & Communications with Roland Systems Group contributing to the marketing and product direction of Roland’s distinctive line of professional audio and video products.