Off season in the Christmas business

Getting ready for this holiday season

It’s that time of the year again when the earth is shifting on its axis, the days in the northern hemisphere are getting longer and the Christmas lighting off-season is in full swing. Wait, you mean you are already planning your 2010 display? Don’t feel bad because many others are doing the same thing. As a result the slow times here at Synchronized Christmas are coming to an end as well.
January is usually spent finishing paperwork and getting the financial house in order for the coming year. February and March turn into a downtime for this small business owner. No displays are active and it’s too early for planning this year’s commercial displays. In reality it’s the best time to take a break from the Jingle Bells, Missile Toe and Holly and recharge the mental batteries.

Now that we are getting closer to summer, times are picking up. Already there are bid requests for upcoming projects. Clients from the 2009 season have begun contacting us to plan more for 2010. Despite our unusual economy, it’s going to be another busy year.

Let’s take a look at your residential display. For those wanting to start your own Christmas display that synchronizes lights and/or music, you need to take this time of year to start planning. Nothing helps more than being prepared and planning for what might come up. If you haven’t yet, I would suggest going back and reading my article in the November 2009 edition of the PlanetChristmas magazine. There you will find a rather lengthy column on planning your home display.

There are other light animation solutions besides Light-O-Rama, and other software that will work with it as well. I am a strong believer in keeping it simple the first year, so I don’t recommend the mixing of hardware and software from different vendors. If something isn’t working right the vendors tend to blame the other ones leaving you struggling in the middle. Now, if you’re a “seasoned” decorator and have done this before then I think you have enough of an idea as to what is going on take a look around at the new software alternatives that are coming out. Some of them are real time savers when it comes to synchronizing.

First come up with a plan for your display, and put it on paper. This will give you a chance to see in writing what it is you want to do with your vision. It will also allow you to see if you’ve decided to take on too much for the first year. Beside each display element you should include some notes as to how long it is going to take to get the piece ready (if you need to build or refurbish it, for example) and how long it will take to set up. The larger the display and the more intricate the display pieces, the longer it will take to pull together.

When planning your synchronized display, take the extra time to do some electrical calculations on your decorations. This is especially important if you still use a lot of incandescent lights. Many of the lighting controllers have a maximum amount of power they can handle. Knowing how much “juice” you need when purchasing light controllers will help determine how many might be required.
Once you have determined what you are going to do and how it will be set up, you are ready to begin programming (this is assuming you are going to synchronize your display to music.) Please be sure to take the time to learn the software that you will be using. Create a couple of test songs to get the hang of the user interface. Be sure to look over the help file that comes with the program so you know what it can and can’t do. Simply deciding to program your lights without knowing what you’re doing will cost more time in the long run and lead to near endless frustrations.

Programming the show should be done once you have a good idea what you are going to do with your display. Remember, each time you change your display, you are going to have to change the programming as well. After the programming has started, you should really think twice before adding something new. What looks like a natural to add might prove an extreme task when incorporating it into your existing light show.

Remember: There are many people out there who share your passion for Christmas displays. Don’t be afraid to write up a question on the PlanetChristmas forums or vendor forums of the products you purchase. Asking others for their advice or help with a particular display element is a time honored tradition around here so don’t be afraid to do so. A word to the wise though: before posting a question in the forums, do a search to see if it has already been asked and answered. As special as you might think you are, chances are pretty good someone has already experienced the same thing you’re struggling with today.

Don Teague is the owner of Synchronized Christmas, Inc., an authorized Light-O-Rama dealer. Synchronized Christmas provides design, consultation and programming services for commercial, municipal and residential displays featuring synchronized Christmas lights.

This article was included in the September 2010 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Don Teague

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