Technically Hosting a Concert at Your Church

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Your Youth Leader or Music Minister has come to you, the leader of the tech team, about hosting a concert in your sanctuary. What does this mean, how will it affect you, and what do you need to do now?

I recently visited the Rebecca St. James Tour during their stop at the East Carolina University Carmichael Arena in Greenville, NC. I spoke with Daniel Smallbone of the Tour and John Mills, production manager for Chris Tomlin, who was also an artist on this Tour. They were happy to talk with me and provide some good information for prospective churches.

As tech team leader, your job in hosting a concert at your church can either be a fun experience or a nightmare with long hours. We want to help you make sure the experience is fun.

The first thing you’ll need to know: how big is this concert? I am not talking about the act or the crowd, but the technical production aspects. I have been the production manager for church concerts that required 16 lights and others, like “Jars of Clay”, which needed 120 Pars, 8 moving lights, and a full arena sound system. The small show was in a Baptist church and the “Jars of Clay” show was in a local 6500-seat arena. The one thing that both shows had in common was a technical rider. This document is the first thing that you want to get your hands on; here is where you will find out what will be needed from you and your team.

The tech rider will spell out all the requirements that your church will need to provide in order for the artist to perform. Hopefully, you will be reading it before signing the contract with the artist, as technical changes based on your situation are much easier to negotiate prior to the signing, rather than afterwards. For example, if you want to host a concert for the Rebecca St. James Tour, than you would need very little in the way of your own gear. The tour comes with a semi truck full of equipment. What you will need to provide is a clear stage area of 56′ wide by 32′ deep by 25′ high and 200 amps 3 phase power. The only other thing you’ll need is a good volunteer crew of about 15 to load in and load out their equipment. The tour carries all the lighting and sound gear they need. But, this means the church tech team will need to do a complete strike of their own gear and reset it after the concert. If you cannot meet these requirements, then you may not be able to host this particular concert.

Let’s break down these areas further using the Rebecca St. James Tour as an example:

1) Stage Space – They can work in smaller spaces but it limits them. They would have to approve any size changes.

2) Power – If you do not have a power disconnect available for this kind of event, talk with an electrician. If you plan to do more of these events then it would be worthwhile to have one installed if you can. Alternatively, you can always rent a generator for the show. If you do rent a generator make sure the tour knows how far the geni (generator) is from the stage. Typically the tour will only carry 50′ to 100′ of power cable, so you may need to rent some.

3) Labor – This point is one of the gotcha! mistakes that you want to avoid. Tour crews really appreciate a good crew. Do not leave the job of arranging the crew to the last minute or to the Youth Minister who is already too busy. The importance of a solid, dependable crew cannot be stressed enough. If you are unsure of the quality then increase the quantity. Get solid commitments for the load out; this can get overlooked because of the excitement of the show being over – but remember, the work isn’t. Remind the crew they will need to stay, be patient, and give the tour crew time to pack up the gear. The crew will be needed to move the road cases to the truck and to help load.

The tech rider is usually broken up into sections that detail the stage, sound, lighting, and hospitality requirements. There are other components, but you need not worry about them. Your task is to review the requirements and see what you will need to meet them, or where you can’t. If you find that something is not feasible, first try negotiating; you will be amazed at how willing some of the managers are to compromise on some items. On other items, compromise might not be possible. The size of the show and the importance of the artist influence how much they will bend. A rig like the St. James Tour can only adapt so far before the integrity of the show is compromised. A small act that is touring with very little gear can fit into almost any sanctuary.

My favorite area – lighting – is generally the first to get cut. Most artists do not come with a lighting designer, even in the national touring world. Lighting complaints from the congregation are usually only heard when they can’t see the performer, so this will be the area where the most compromising can take place. If your church does not have an easily adjustable lighting system, you can rent a simple system of stand lights. I would recommend that the minimum would be 2 trees of 4 from the front. The next step is to add 2 more trees from the back. The setup and operation of this system is quite easy and can be done in an afternoon, either by your team or a local theatre rental company.

Sound is the area where the production manager of the visiting artist is going to be most involved. Often times, the production manager is also the sound engineer. If you are worried that they are going to come in and ruin your console settings, don’t be; 90% of the tours do not want to use your sound system. Do not feel slighted by this. It makes no difference how good your system is; they have never used it. To make the show sound the same from place to place they rely on the equipment that they are familiar with. Bands always travel with some gear and one component that they like to carry is a console. By bringing their own console they, like you, do not have to reset it every show.

I have worked on several shows where the tech rider called for what is referred to as “racks and stacks”. The show tours with everything except for speakers and amplifiers, the heavy part of the system. They will be willing to patch into your system or you can find a local sound company to bring in the gear, but either way you come out ahead.

After studying the tech rider call the contact person; the more communication between you and the group, the better. You can help them by preparing a technical document of your own; a technical specification that details everything about your space. It will enable you to answer questions that they will have during the first phone call, preventing a lot of games of phone tag. Your specs should include dimensions of the stage, available seating, and include distance from the stage to the proposed console placement. A plan diagram would answer this question quickly; remember to show rooms available to the stage for use as green room and dressing rooms. Include an equipment list of available sound and lighting. Detail available power, and where the disconnect, or outlets are in relation to the stage.

Speaking of power, locate and label all breakers in your sanctuary that control Edison outlets. Draw a diagram that shows which outlets are on which breaker. I say this from experience. In that Baptist church I mentioned earlier, I had to find 4 separate circuits for the lighting and 2 for the sound system. (Separate is defined as an outlet controlled by a 20-amp breaker, even if other outlets are also on that breaker. Another way to look at it is that I needed to find 6 20-amp breakers controlling outlets and only plug one device into each.) If you are unsure about whether they are really separate you can find out quickly by turning everything on and waiting for something to stop working. We found out this was the case in this church when one lighting tree and half of the sound amps went down. Fortunately, up in the pipe organ bay there was a set of electrical plans so we could trace out the electrical layout. I recommend that you figure all this out in advance; you will have enough headaches on show day.

Concert events are wonderful outreach opportunities – the Rebecca St. James Tour is reaching thousands with a powerful message of hope and faith. If you do your homework in advance, an event like this can be very uplifting.

Your best resources during pre-show setup are the tour production manager, good preplanning, and a committed volunteer team. If you have obtained and studied your tech rider, maintained communication with the contact person, provided the visiting group with a technical spec diagram of your site, ensured your group has a site electrical diagram, and confirmed your team of volunteers for load in and load out; then you are ready for a busy but fun event!