Sequencing for a living

Help others flash the lights to the music

In the September issue of PlanetChristmas magazine, you heard from industry experts giving great advice on “Going Pro” with a Christmas lighting business. I’ve been fortunate to meet with many of these people and have learned a great deal from them. Following in those footsteps, I would like to share my industry experiences with you.

While there are many aspects of a lighting business, I’d like to focus on sequencing a display that is not your own. Of the many services available the most popular is custom programming of light displays. In my many years of working with synchronized displays, I’ve found that some people run into a mental roadblock when it comes to programming the lights. Often times it is easier for them to simply let someone else sequence their display.

There are, however, many challenges faced when programming another display. Often you will not have a chance to see the display in person, thus forcing you to rely on the customer for accurate information. You will also have to work with the customer to determine what kind of display they want and what are their goals. Finally, as said last month, make sure you include being compensated for your time.

The first step in synchronizing a customer’s display is determining exactly what you are going to be programming. Are you working on a simple animation display or a large show synchronized to music? Talk with your customer and learn about their display, and what they want to do. In my experience, this is going to be most difficult for those customers who are just starting out with their display, or who are switching to animation for the first time. Those who are just beginning probably don’t have their display finalized or may not even know what they want to do. You may learn early on that your customer isn’t ready to have their lights programmed. Doing your homework now will save you and the customer from plenty of disappointment later.

Typically, with new customers I ask them to send a picture of their property. This gives me a chance to visualize what I will be programming. Based on conversations I usually try and work up a model of the display and send it back to them for approval. This helps the customer know exactly what I’m talking about as we move forward. Once the customer and I have determined how everything is going to be set up, I go ahead and create a template.

For the customer who already has a display and simply needs some help in adding new content, I ask them to send me a template of what they already have. They’ll probably complain because it’s only written in their head, but getting something on paper is key. Once I receive a document I’ll discuss the template with the customer to make sure I understand where all the key elements located.

Now is when the sequencing finally gets underway. One very important item to remember is that flashing the lights is very subjective. The chances of programming a display that everyone will like the first time are poor. Each person has their own idea of what it should look like and often times those ideas clash with what you have done. The old saying is true, “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

Long ago someone posted in the PlanetChristmas forums about the two types of displays: chasers and faders. Chasers tend to be quicker paced while faders tend to be slower. It’s important to know what style your customer wants to make their display. Probably the easiest way to do this is to ask your customer for examples of other displays they like.

One thing I learned when just starting sequencing other’s displays is that I am not going to like some of the effects being programmed while at the same time the customer is pleased with what they see. To put this another way, you continually have to think of new ways to sequence the show. Be willing to experiment with new effects as you go along. “Think outside the box.”

Along the way, I give the customer opportunities to preview the work in progress. I’ve found this gives everyone a chance to make sure we are on the same page, artistically, when it comes to the vision of the display. A preview of 30-45 seconds of animation is often enough for the customer to get a feel for how things are going to work out.

Once you have finished the customer’s sequence, it’s time to get paid for your work. If handled carelessly, this could lead to a bad customer experience. I strongly believe in providing customers with an estimate of what the costs are going to be ahead of time. This gives them some peace of mind going into the transaction, and reduces the chances of any surprises in the end.

Programming a display other than your own is challenging while rewarding at the same time. More often than not you will never see your work in person. Yet, you will no doubt generate many ideas that you can use in your own display or those projects that you will get a chance to see!

And Now the Shameless Plug

Don Teague is the owner of Synchronized Christmas, Inc., providing design, consultation and programming services for residential, commercial and municipal displays featuring synchronized Christmas lights.

This article was included in the October 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Don Teague

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