Editorial: What to do When Everything Breaks

In this season of holiday shows and long recording sessions gearing up for summer things just break. We’ve all been there, up against a deadline, everyone is waiting, and something critical that has never had an issue just takes a dump. For me that was the story of the week. My team put on the annual Christmas show at CCC where I work. Our church’s Christmas show is usually always stressful and involves some pretty intense triggered sequences.

This year was no different. Because of some personal situations I was a little late to join the team in rehearsals. Leading up to our production week it all started with some instability with our outboard processing gear. Our soundgrid server, something that has had no hiccups in almost 4 years, just started having some random dropouts. Since the entire band runs through that gear, any dropout, no matter how short is significant. On top of that, our video matrix, which is aging but still works for us, broke down as well. The team did however get things stabilized and we were set for rehearsals. We thought we’d seen the worst of it but little did we know that more was coming. Wednesday night we held our final full rehearsal for the big show, we had a few issues but things went pretty well, then, on thursday we held our weekend service rehearsal and things went a bit nuts. The soundgrid server went haywire again with dropouts despite having received a brand new network, new cables, the works. After a long phone call with Waves tech support we thought we had a solution but remained skeptical. By this time our lighting director had pretty much finished programming for our Christmas show and despite our fog machines not working as expected, he had worked through it.

We got through our first show on friday with a fair amount of issues with our video playback system that is operated by a brand new iMac Pro. It was clear we had some issues to work through. With some work staying late we talked through a few things, helped figure stuff out, and went home mostly ready for our second show the next day. Little did we know what we would go through.

During rehearsal, our issues would really hit a climax. We soon discover that one of the video output devices has basically completely failed. We don’t have a duplicate of it so we would need to come up with another option. In the process we needed to restart the iMac Pro and when that starting to boot back up it totally lost it’s startup drive. After hearing some frustrated voices I came back to take a look and just started trying stuff one at a time to see if we could get it to come back. After re-selecting the boot drive, it came back. A huge sigh of relief because that computer drives a huge visual element it was time to keep moving forward. We redirected the triggers playing the video toward a different computer, adjusted when things get triggered and had just enough time to try it just once before the show. Once again, the show goes pretty well. God really held things together and we worked together as a team to just make it happen.

Then, during the weekend service rehearsals on saturday, the waves server glitched again. With it being too late to call Waves my TD just decided to mix without it and he pulled off a masterful mix in no time at all. Years of experience are what made that happen. I’m thankful he was mixing because I’m not sure I would have been able to do that. However, I did need to find a solution because with no full rehearsals remaining I wouldn’t have much time to develop a mix without waves. Not impossible, but if we can find a solution, that would be preferable. So because Waves tech support wasn’t able to diagnose the problem yet, I took to social media and the 4 audio groups I’m a part of. Lots of people have experienced similar issues so I was just making a list of everything I hadn’t done yet and I’d try everything. I think the clincher was a server update that had literally been released days ago that I didn’t know was out. However, I found myself still checking everything else just to be safe. We monitored the changes to the server throughout the services but still did not use it. Having sorted out the bad gear issues our lighting team was finally out front of things and we were set as well.

During our final rehearsal, we experienced one of the worst of our issues, one of our lead vocals had some health issues and we found ourselves scrambling again to prepare for whatever happens. Waves had some other issues but they worked themselves out and I was able to test out a mix without waves to see what I’d need to do if the worst happens. After rehearsing some options that might be needed during the show, it was time to clear the room and open the doors for the show. The two shows that would follow went off without a hitch. We had made it.

I tell you that story so that you know that even the most resourced and planned events can still have issues. We will all have to solve problems on the fly. The key is to respond appropriately, take a second to think, include your team, and work as quickly as possible. Doing those four things will ensure that you emerge the on the other side of adversity with friendships AND the gig in tact. The first step is to respond appropriately. This is probably my weakest area. So many times I’ve responded harshly instead of just staying level-headed. If you can master this initial stage of troubleshooting, the rest will all fall into place.

Secondly, just take a second to think. Consider the implications to your issue (i.e. what else is affected that you cannot see at this moment), weigh the options internally, and just breathe. Especially that last part. When you stop to think, just breathe. Most of us don’t respond to stress by taking a second to relax but when you do, you will always make much better decisions. Than proceed directly to step 3, include your team. It is easy to make decisions in a bubble but if you are a part of team, odds are, what you decide will affect others. Because of that, everyone needs to be on the same page. This is where producers for complicated live events can be extremely helpful. As you include your team, don’t forget to to trust them in the process. You’ve all been through the ringer, everyone has skills that are useful in a pinch, resist the urge to micromanage and let everyone help. This came into play especially during our last rehearsal as our team flexed its’ muscles and quickly prepared for all the possibilities that could happen through the show.

Lastly, work quickly. This is obviously implied but its’ importance is also key. Once everyone knows what to do, there is often a timeframe the work must be completed to be considered a useful solution. In our case we had both short and fast timeframes. So many times I’ve seen people who just always work slowly. The solution is easily attainable but they don’t forth the effort to make it happen. Each situation is different however. Sometimes you need to work slow and methodically. No matter what you have to do, if you have to stop and think again for a brief moment just to collect yourself again, do it. We all make better decisions when we remain objective and calm. When I need to do a quick routing change in my SSL I almost have to take a breath and then go at it because it is so easy to make a mistake. There are so many different ways to do things on digital consoles, the key is to find the fastest method to do it and then check your work.

When it’s all said and done, you have to be able to look back and be proud of how you handled yourself. If you finish an event, solve all the problems, and then turn around and see a wake of messed up friendships or unsatisfied customers, you’ll wish you’d done something different. Do yourself a favor, take a breath, think about your options, include your team or your customers, and get it done quickly. Hopefully this advice can help you navigate the murky waters of the holiday season when we all are up against a wall at one point or another. As always, if you have any questions, or even just need some troubleshooting advice, comment below or email me at daniel@studiostagelive.com. If you like what you are reading and want to read more, you can subscribe to this blog at this link. Each week you’ll get an email when a new post is up. Good luck on your productions and recordings, I’ll see you on the flipside next week!

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