Tech: Mind Your Transitions

By Van Metschke
Contributing Writer
September 29, 2022

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Train wreck.
Car crash.
Awkward moment.
Bumpy ride.

These are just some of the phrases many a technical professional has uttered under their breath during an event that is going, shall we say, not so smoothly. I have been a part of, as well as witness to, many events that had very bad transitions.

Well thought out and well planned transitions are crucial to any live event. They are, in my opinion, even more crucial in a church service.

A great church service is designed to move the attendees to a specific emotion, discipline, or realization; to engage in what is happening, to participate in an interactive way, to ingest insights and knowledge for living out a life in Christ, and to receive the knowledge of Christ’s redemption. A poor transition can pull people out of the very moment we are desperately trying to create for them. It can be so distracting that we lose them completely.

A poor transition can pull people out of the very moment we are desperately trying to create for them.

Although the tech team is not solely responsible for making smooth transitions, we can do our part to make transitions as smooth as possible. The key is to work together with the content creators (pastors, worship leaders, musicians, and designers) to make sure everything is working in conjunction and not distracting from the intended destination. Like a great book or movie, our job is to lead those sitting in the seats to the intended destination without them wondering about the “man behind the curtain.”

Here are some things us techs can control that will make any event run more smoothly:

Audio Transitions
Whether it’s how you fade your pre-service music or the fader transition time preset on your digital console, audio transitions are some of the most noticeable if they are awkward or abrupt. This may seem like a no brainer, but how many times have you heard the music just stop or start at a totally inappropriate level to the current mood of the moment?

No matter the perceived urgency of the moment, a smooth fade in or out is crucial to keeping distractions to a minimum. If you have a digital audio mixer, go in and set your default fade time to a minimum of three seconds. It may seem like a long time, but it will ease you in and out of each moment in a more natural way rather than seeming like a wall switch is being flipped.

Lighting Transitions
Like audio, lighting transitions that are poorly placed or executed are going to be noticed (I won’t go into my opinions on how many cues should be in a song because there are plenty of posts out there from Daniel Connell or Mike Sessler). The worst lighting transition is the one that happens about four seconds before or after a major change is made on stage.

A good rule of thumb is that if there is a change on the stage, make sure the transition is spot on with it. As with audio, unless it’s an effect, lighting transitions should be smooth as silk—not abrupt.

If there is a change on the stage, make sure the transition is spot on with it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when the LD decides he will sneak up the house lights during a prayer. Even though people’s eyes are closed, they can still tell that the ambient light in the room is changing. That’s very distracting. Better to wait until Amen.

Video Transitions
Directing and switching video, like sound and lighting, is a mixture of art and skill. There are natural breaks in the flow of what is happening at an event, so use them to your advantage (Volumes have been written and thousands of hours of video tutorials have been shot on how to direct video, so I won’t go there in this article). I will focus on one important transition item that plagues churches large and small: song word background and environmental projection transitions. Like all the above, changing projected background content must be timely and smooth. This is vitally important. It is one of the most distracting things I see in any service.

Changing projected background content must be timely and smooth.

On-Stage Transitions
Bringing on tables and chairs, moving the pulpit, pulling back microphone and music stand – all this needs to be done in the rhythm of the moment. Be deliberate and know where you are going.

So how do we make this work? Practice, practice, practice. Everything I’ve mentioned must be rehearsed—no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be. Run your people through it. Talk about how it will flow. Make sure that everyone on and off stage understands what is happening and when.

Make sure that everyone on and off stage understands what is happening and when.

If you don’t have a full run through of your service, at least have a “cue to cue” with all the principle people on stage and in the booth. Walk through each transition—sound, lighting, video, and staging. Make sure everyone knows what will be happening and where they will be when it happens.

Knowledge and practice is power. It also helps everyone feel more comfortable when the transitions actually happen. That will make for a more fluid event. While many of us can fly by the seat of our pants, it doesn’t mean we should.

By focusing on smoothing out every transition, we help to create a distraction-free environment that will enhance everyone’s experience—including those that are presenting and controlling it.

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