Tag Archives: Stage

6 Things you Need to Set Design

I’ve been chatting to several groups recently who are interested in ‘upping their game’ in terms of the visual engagement of their stages.

I’m not going to go into any detail (in this post) around why this is an important thing to think about – suffice to say: if a person comes to your church once a year, and everything looks exactly the same as the last time they were there, they could reason that they haven’t missed anything…

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Over the past 4 years we have learned a lot about set design, (or scenic design as its also known) and made a ton of mistakes along the way. Here are six things, practical things you need to think about to get your department off to a great start.

1. Materials

Practically any material you can imagine can end up as part of a set, but we have found that 80% of the time we are using the same ‘basics’.   Fabric (Voile, Pongee and Cotton Lyra) Hung or stretched, gathered or draped. Great info on set fabrics here. Correx/Coroplast – Basically its plastic cardboard. This is the number-1 go-to set design material we are using at the moment. Dirt-cheap, lights well, and easy to bend/cut. I have yet to see the natural or transparent versions on South African shores – but plain white has done well for us so far. Pine (22×44 planks) – Building flats is one of the first things you’ll want to try. Use standard dimensions to keep them reusable.

2. Tools

Some basics make life a lot easier. Here are some tools I use practically every week.

Staple Gun, Rivet Gun, Glue Gun, Nylon Tieing Cord, Electric Jigsaw, Electric Drill, Spirit Level, Tape Measure

3. Lighting

Lighting is such a fundamental part of set-design that the most experienced stage-guys, speak of light and scenic as one-and-the-same. A great set can look rubbish without decent lighting – and you’d be amazed how great a simple set can look when using dramatic colours and angles. More on lighting in this post.

4. Time

Deadlines are deadlines, but I have found your stage design evolves the more time you give it. Typically, if I have to get a new set up for a Sunday, I aim to have the set built by the preceding Monday, and lit by Tuesday, that way I have 4 days to tweak it.

5. Sketchup

A free 3d modeling program from Google. Absolutely invaluable in the design process. Long before you pay for material, you can see what it’s going to look like, measure it up, check sight-lines – and sell the idea to your team!

6. Inspiration

The Internet is a goldmine of ‘how-tos’ but it’s also a great place to steal – I mean – ‘draw inspiration from others’ set ideas. Check out http://www.churchstagedesignideas.com/

Check your Sources

Check out the cab stacks!

Ok, I posted a few days ago: “In my travels I’ve discovered many church audio guys who think their work begins and ends at the sound desk. Live audio starts at the source (the stage), and if you aren’t spending SIGNIFICANT time there, I would argue you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance of creating a good mix!”

And I feel like I need to elaborate a bit, cos this is something I came back from my trip having very clear in my mind, and feeling very strongly about.

Sources are everything. Everything.

“Garbage in = Garbage out”  – is such a simple principle, but somewhere along the way the equation became:

“Garbage in + Latest digital mixing desk = Hillsong United out”

Now I know I don’t have to explain how crazy this is, but I feel like often in our environments (South African churches) there is a lot of emphasis on “the gear” – that ‘silver bullet’ mixing desk, or line-array PA, or in-ear monitoring system that is going to “solve our bad sound problem”, when that’s often not the real problem.

What we do as sound techs is reproduce what is being produced by our musicians on stage. That has to be where our work starts. And if what’s coming off the stage isn’t working, you could have all the gear that money can buy, and not have a hope of creating a good mix.

So let me be clear. A sound guy can’t make bad musicians/instruments sound good.

At this point you maybe asking how this information could practically help you – there’s nothing you can do about the quality of your musicians! (or their instruments) They are volunteers after all!

…but before you wash your hands of the ‘audio mission impossible’, let me challenge you, that you may have more to do with the quality of your musicians than you think…

1)     Be Professional in your own Role.

Show up ahead of time, and be ready for the band so they aren’t waiting on you. Familiarize yourself with the music that is on the set, and the order of the music – know where the ‘lead breaks’ or ‘instrumentals’ are. Be ‘present’ at rehearsals (i.e. not smsing/facebooking as soon as the first song is done). Band members (especially newer members) will take their cue from you.

Inspect all the sources before a note is played: Check the drum mics are all in the right position, check the electric amp mic position, check the eq on the backline, check that all the musos have the right cabling and the vocalists have the right microphones. This will help make sure the band is good to go, and save TONS of trouble-shooting later.

2)    Develop Relationship with your Musos.

This one thing could improve the quality of worship dramatically in churches all over the world. And it’s free.

Develop relationships with your band. Check-in with each musician. Ask them if they are comfortable, and are hearing what they need to hear.  Serving the band is the most perfect example of the Mark 9:35 principle I know of. Do you want to have a great mix? Serve your band. Building relationships with your musos means you can understand better why they are doing what they do, and earn the right to have unique input based on your ‘objective’ position at the FOH. Make opening constructive dialog between the sound booth and the stage an objective of every rehearsal.

3)    Be a Jack-of-all-(audio)-trades

Maybe you are a musician yourself. Maybe not. But if you want to be decent sound guy, you need to be able to help your musicians, and talk their language. You need to know how to tune a drum, you need to know how to fix the ‘tone’ on an electric guitar amp, and you need to know what a 3-part vocal harmony sounds like. Get online and start the homework!

*Disclaimer* before you start fiddling the settings on your electric guitarists amp, make sure you have got step 2 down first!

Obviously all this is work. Many tech guys (myself included) are not ‘people persons’ and so developing relationships with musos doesn’t always come easy. As we know – ‘the curse of the tech guy’ is that when the worship sounds great, the worship leader is congratulated, when the worship sounds bad the sound guy is berated… I’d encourage you to rise above this.

We are called to do what we do, we are gifted to do what we do, and the Kingdom needs us to do what we do. My challenge is to the washed up, inert, passive church sound guys out there – to reassess their commitment, and embrace their calling!