I’ve been putting on backyard fireworks shows for family and friends for a few years now. Each year becomes progressively bigger, more complicated, and I hope better. COVID-19 was a big obstacle to getting fireworks and supplies but we managed to put on a show for people.
Read on to see the show, details of construction, preparation, bloopers, and lessons learned.
Before I delve into the details of how I put on this fireworks show to music, here is the entire show:
NOTE: there is a break from 9:50 – 10:55 where there is no sound (not even the fireworks). This is YouTube muting a song which cannot be published in my video.
It all begins buying wholesale fireworks online and having them shipped to the place they will be shot off. These sort of shipments must be transferred by truck. It’s a big one that has wrapped pallets of fireworks that looks like this:
But before that point, there is a lot of planning involved. Obviously the fireworks selected need to be researched, a budget established, music considered, and trying to find fireworks and music that may go together. This involves many hours watching clips and listening to songs trying to find some harmony.
With COVID this year again, supply was short and prices were higher. I was fortunate to purchase early enough (late Feb / early Mar) that I got everything I wanted that was in stock. There were some fireworks that I wanted but were simply not available.
After the fireworks are reserached and purchased, and the music has been determined, now it is time to start planning which fireworks go off when according to the music. This can become a part time job – it takes hours (or at least it takes me hours) to gather all the info needed and then let your intuition try to guide a sequence.
Eventually I draft a big spreadsheet showing the song, which firework will be used, quantity of firework, when it fires (in seconds) relative to the beginning of the song, when it fires relative to the whole show, which firing module queue it goes under, the duration of the firework, ending time both relative to the song and whole show, some notes on fuses, and other comments about the sequence.
Because I don’t have a professional fireworks license, I am a little restricted in what I can buy. So I have to make due with the visco fuse and talon clip igniters. That makes timing songs to the second very difficult. Especially since visco fuse doesn’t burn at a steady rate – there is a variance. When it comes to seconds that can put your fireworks off from the music.
Here’s a gallery of images from the setup and what some of the fireworks look like close up and stripped of their covers.
There’s always room for improvement. Let’s look at some changes I made from the mistakes of the past and ones I’ll be making next year.
Improvements over 2020
Some of the changes made from last years show:
- Cutting the paper and plastic off the fireworks – this reduces the amount of debris
- Additional boards to place the fireworks
- Added another 18M firing module – the more queues the less fusing needs to be done
- Used HVAC tape and liquid nails to tape fuses and fasten boxes to the boards
- Having extra knives and flashlights really helps
- Filmed on a better camera and held landscape
Improvements for 2022
- Preparation – plan to work on this a few days in advance – I cannot control which day of the year the 4th falls as well as my time away from work; however, this takes hours and hours of prep time to get everything setup, staged, etc.
- Inspect inventory
- Write mock-ups of how the boards should look and be arranged
- Glue boxes down and let dry overnight – use a tarp and elevate them in case it rains
- Have a clear plan for helpers – volunteers may give up if orders aren’t clear so I need to more clearly specify what needs to be done and when.
- Some fireworks didn’t fire – that’s good in the sense that I can use them next year but fusing mistakes need to be mitagated
- Buy a clipboard – hours in the sun staging fireworks and revising as you go is easier to write notes
- Update the firmware on the Cobra Firing System to take advantage of new features
- Learn to automate the show – I hesitate to do this since I sometimes need to fire things earlier or later on the fly
- This includes running a dry-run of the show to make sure things fire when they should
- I took notes of how to use the equipment – since I only do this once a year it’s easy to forget the many details
- Get an iPod touch – I like the idea of a dedicated music player. Even though I turn off everything on my iPhone that I can I still fear some notification popping up, stopping music, and ruining the show.
- Start the show earlier – this year due to setup we had to start later than expected and that kept people waiting.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Once again this year it was difficult to pair the music with the fireworks resulting in some parts being out-of-sync. Other times it involves boxes burning down on the boards from all the action and being so close to each other.
Sometimes I have to put my firefighters hat on and put out a fire:
Remember to be safe if you put on a fireworks show and have a Happy Independence Day!