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Dealing with the Big Production

by Vince Lepore • in
  • December 2018
  • Sound Sanctuary
• Created: December 11, 2018

As we enter the Advent season, a common dilemma for church technical directors is deciding whether to buy or rent equipment for special services and programs — whether it’s an expanded “sing-it-yourself Messiah” or an involved Christmas pageant. When you’re in need of additional equipment for a special set of services, should you rent the equipment you need, should you buy it outright or should you do a bit of each? My first inclination has always been to “buy, buy, buy,” but when you take a step back, buying is not always the best option in the long term. Carrying an inventory of expensive technical equipment costs money in maintenance and limits your long-term flexibility.

Take a hard look at the duration of any potential rentals. Do you simply need gear for the holiday season, or just a weekend or two? How long will it take to integrate rental equipment into your existing systems? The longer your rental duration, the higher your rental costs, which might tip the scales in favor of buying.

‡‡         The Budget

The decision of whether to buy or rent comes down to your church’s individual financial situation. If your budget is structured as a capital budget, where the money is earmarked for purchasing new equipment, buying might be your best (or only) option. However, if your budget is structured as an operating budget, equipment rentals might be more attractive. My own experience at churches is that the tech budget’s intended usage is not always clear. You can often ask five people how your budget is intended to be used and get five different answers. Clarifying how your budget can be used is the first step to making these types of decisions. Let’s look at four main areas where churches struggle with the “rent or buy” question. As FRONT of HOUSE is an audio magazine, I’ll focus on audio gear, but video and lighting equipment are subject to similar considerations.

‡‡         Wireless Mics & IEMs

Some of the most common pieces of audio gear that churches need for special services are wireless mics and in-ear monitors. Integrating additional wireless is always a challenge because you need the audio I/O capacity, the antenna distribution, and the ability to have the additional systems coordinated with any existing wireless on your campus. Unless you are absolutely certain that you’ll be using new wireless systems on a regular basis, these are probably better rented than purchased. You don’t want to be sitting on a large inventory of unused wireless systems, and with the UHF landscape in turmoil right now, putting off major RF purchasing decisions until it is necessary may be a good idea. However, any FCC changes implemented this year will not kick in for at least 39 months afterwards, so there is some “breathing room” in that regard. However, in either case, I expect to see a lot of new wireless technology coming out in the next two to three years, so sit the fence on major purchases if you can.

‡‡         Lavalier and Headset Mics

This topic hits close to home, because I have a large inventory of headsets and lavaliers that lie dormant for much of the year. In the summer, we typically do a theatrical production that uses every last headset and lavalier we have available. During Lent and Advent, half of our inventory might be in use across multiple venues, but the rest of the year, they sit in plastic bins. These types of mics also happen to have high maintenance costs and are difficult to manage. They have little pieces like wireless adapters that are expensive and easily lost or broken. The moral of the story is, unless you’ve got a use for a bunch of bodypacks, headsets and lavs (and the budget to maintain and repair them), rent these as much as possible for special events.

‡‡         More Audio I/O

We live in a wonderful time indeed. Many of us have the luxury of scaling our digital console’s I/O up and down depending on our needs at any given time. I can remember several years of submixing orchestra inputs on a second console and busing stems into my main console for Christmas concerts. Thankfully those days are gone. Even modest digital consoles can add remote I/O via Cat-5e, coax or fiber. This is where things can get tricky, because the cost of renting stage racks is rather high. If you find yourself needing to rent additional I/O two or three times a year, it is probably smart to consider buying. If you have the means, buy a card-based modular I/O rack. That way, as your needs grow, you can add input or output cards to your system, usually in increments of eight channels per card.

‡‡         Communications!

Larger productions require more intercoms in more locations, and sometimes re- quire wireless intercom that you may not already own. The first consideration is to look at your existing intercom inventory. Is your intercom system a party line system or a matrix? Do you need party line or point-to-point communication? I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of churches use party line intercom systems, with only the largest, most high-tech churches using an intercom matrix. If you have a party line system, it would be advisable to stay in the party line world and add additional beltpacks or user stations as needed. If you’ve got an intercom matrix, renting keypanels is a viable solution if you have the wiring infrastructure to support them. And in either case, if you need to add wireless intercom, it can be integrated easily into a party line or matrix system if you have the capacity to do so.

‡‡         The Decision Process

I’ve always been the type of person that wants to buy everything, and I’ve always viewed renting as a “waste of money.” However, when you consider the cost of ownership for the gear we use, things aren’t quite as clear. Take a close look at your church’s needs before making these types of decisions for your big productions.

Vince Lepore is the director of event technical operations at Full Sail University.


Pictured: Additional programs and services — such as Christmas pageants — can put a strain on a church’s A/V resources. Photo: Ralph/Flicker

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