Diving into Planning Center Online

First Impressions

My first impression of Planning Center Online (PCO) was “OMG! This program does everything that I’ve wanted to do with my custom band website”. So I registered for a free account to give it a spin.

Unfortunately the free account does not allow uploading chord sheets or MP3 files. So I upgraded to a 30 day trial of the $14.95/mo ‘lite’ account.

Creating a Lineup

At this point I’m a bit stumped. What I wanted to do was create a lineup for next Sunday’s service and enter the 6 songs that we will be doing. I entered the list of band members no problem. However it became confusing when I tried to create a lineup.

First I created a new ‘Service’ which I called ‘Sunday Service’. Then I selected ‘create a new plan’. This displayed a dialog with a dropdown list that included only ‘No Template’. There is also a ‘Quantity’ dropdown. I’m not sure what this is for. I guess you can create multiple, duplicate plans here.

No Template Plan

Ok, so I guess that it is ok to create a plan from ‘No Template’, so I click on ‘accept’ to create a plan from ‘No Template’.

Step 1: Add Times

This displays what appears to be a very helpful prompt which states “Step 1: Add Times…” with an arrow pointing upwards to the left to a small blue dot with a triangle in it. I would guess that this means that I should click on the blue dot. However, doing so only causes the triangle to alternately point to the right or downwards. So with confusion setting in, I read the message all the way to the end where there is a line of smaller text which says “Hint: Do you like keyboard-shortcuts? If so hit Ctrl-Alt-T to add a time!”. So I hit Ctrl+Alt+T and nothing happens. I’m wondering now if this isn’t working because I’m on a Macbook Pro. In any case, I’m stumped at this step so I’ll go over to help.

Help

I click on the ‘help’ link in the upper right. This gets me a list showing ‘Tutorial Videos’, ‘Support Forums’, ‘E-Mail Support’, or ‘Phone Support’.
I’ve already watched all of the videos, although I’ll guess that my question might be answered in one of them but I’ve forgotten or didn’t notice this particular step. But the videos are pretty long, so I think I’ll try the forum to see if I can get a quick answer to ‘Add Times”.

Online Forum

After clicking on ‘Support Forums’ I get a page which says ‘There are no current topics in this discussion group’. This is a bit confusing, but I ignore it and enter my ‘Add Times’ search in the ‘Search this group’ textbox. This gets me a couple of pages of hits, none of which appear to address my question. I’m guessing that it searched for the individual occurrence of the words “add” and “times”. So I retry my search, this time putting “Add Times” in double quotes. This yields a smaller list of 9 items. One of these items is labeled ‘Keyboard shortcuts’ where I learn that “If you are on a mac, the Alt key is the Option key…” so I’m guessing that Alt-Option-T is supposed to work on my MBP.
I check out another entry labeled ‘same service, two times’ and I get the answer that I need to ‘Just click add a time and enter …’. So now I go back and look at the dialog, and sure enough, further over in the left column is a ‘Times’ box with ‘+ add a time’. This allows me to enter my lineup date and time.

Adding A Time

So now I select my date for next Sunday from a helpful calendar widget, and enter my times for 11:00 and 12:00. I make the common mistake of leaving 12:00 as ‘am’. I get a helpful message informing me that my ‘Starts at must be before ending time’. So I change 12:00am to 12:00pm.

Step 2: Adding Items

Now I get the helpful message informing me that step 2 is to add items to the plan, and gives me the keyboard shortcuts. I’m thinking that I’ll need a header for each song category (Intro, Congregationals, etc). Once again the keyboard shortcuts don’t appear to work for me (Ctrl+Option+H), but hovering over either ‘add an item’ link displays a list of items to add, so I elect to add a header and call it ‘Intro’, and then select ‘add an item’ and select ‘song’ to enter the Intro song.

Add A Song

The Add A Song dialog that is displayed is blank. This makes sense since I haven’t added any songs. So I click on ‘add a song’ and I get a ‘New Song’ window. Our first song is ‘Not to Us’ by Chris Tomlin, so I enter the song title into the ‘CCLI # or Title:’ field. After typing just a few characters, I’m presented with a list of songs matching the characters typed so far. Very cool. I love Ajax. By the time I get to ‘Not To’ the only option is the song that I want, so I stop and click on it. This fills in the CCLI number for me, and lists a single arrangement in the key of B. I click ‘Save’ and nothing happens. So I click on the ‘plans’ tab and it returns me to the plan I’m working on.
There are several icons that appear to the right of the song name whenever I hover anywhere over the line.
The first icons looks like a cartoon balloon. There’s no flyover help, so I click it to see what it does. This displays a window ‘Not To Us Comments’. There is an option to subscribe to comments about this item, or this plan, or this service. Very nice. So I elect to subscribe to all comments for the service type, and enter a simple comment. This creates the comment, and a new field to add a new comment forum-style. Upon closing the window I see that the balloon icon now has a number 1 in it indicating that there is 1 comment regarding this song. Extra very nice.
The 2nd icon is a pencil, and as one would expect this displays an edit window. Lots of stuff here, a little confusing. There’s a place to link media, select arrangements, and add various notes. I’m going to leave this alone, and cancel back.
The 3rd icon is a red X which I can guess is to delete the song from the lineup. I try this, and sure enough I get a confirmation window. I cancel this.
The 4th icon is a musical note. Clicking this takes me to the ‘songs’ tab and the dialog which I saw when I originally added the song.
I notice now that the comment ballon is displayed now even without hovering over the line. This is another nice touch.

At this point I’m quite impressed with PCO, having worked through the few stumbling points. I continue to add the other songs in similar fashion as above. Now that I’ve done one already, the other 5 songs enter in under a couple minutes total.

Adding MP3 Files

This turns out to be fairly simple. Files can either be uploaded to the PCO site
or a link established from PCO to a separate site. Since I already have a lot of
MP3 files on my band site, I’ll establish a link to them from within PCO.

The only tricky aspect to this is the fact that an MP3 can be associated with the song itself or with a particular arrangement. This is a nice feature, but does make it a bit less simple.

Adding Chord Sheets

PCO has a very nice facility for adding chord sheets.
Standard chord sheet text can be cut/pasted into PCO, and PCO will
intelligently parse them to recognize the chord lines. PCO will then allow
transposing them.

iPhone App

PCO has a free iPhone application which makes it easy to view the current
week’s lineup. I was a comment in the App Store complaining that the MP3
files couldn’t be played, but it works for me, so maybe that is an outdated
comment, or maybe it depends on how the MP3 file was posted/linked.
PCO does have a switch to disable file downloads, and allow only streaming.
So maybe that was the cause in that particular case.

Conclusions

I love it. I’m going to switch over to using PCO for our band’s weekly
lineups. I’ll probably revamp the existing band website to provide a link
to PCO, as well as provide the MP3 files which PCO will link to.