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Managing A/V Upgrades

by Vince Lepore • in
  • July 2018
  • Sound Sanctuary
• Created: July 17, 2018

Church technology upgrades are simultaneously the love of my life and the bane of my existence. The most stressful times in my professional career have been trying to get A/V upgrades through a seemingly never-ending approval process. The most rewarding times are when your designs are approved and come to fruition. I am involved with A/V system design and implementation in both the secular world and the church world. Churches are uniquely difficult, because in my experience, everything is a democracy. Everything has to be done by consensus. In this day and age, it’s downright difficult (though not impossible) to achieve.

‡‡         Upgrade Cycles

In my church, there are two main upgrade cycles that I have to adhere to, and I am sure that it’s similar in other churches as well. First is the annual budget cycle. I am fortunate to have an annual operating budget that, for the most part, I can spend as I see fit. It’s not a ton of money, so I’m not buying things like consoles, loudspeaker systems or moving lights from this annual budget. Instead, this is for things like computers, microphones, cables, expendables, repairs, replacements and occasional equipment rentals. For us, there’s a bit of gray area regarding whether it is a capital budget or an operating budget, but as I said, we’ve got flexibility with how we spend it. The second upgrade cycle involves multi-year capital campaigns. We’re just wrapping one up now and about to embark on another. These are your big opportunities, your once-every-few-year shots at getting some larger chunks of money toward upgrades that you want to accomplish. Plan accordingly and plan well in advance. If you have big-ticket items that need to be replaced, or you have new functionality you’d like to add to your systems, this is your chance. It is up to you to make a compelling case for the upgrades you would like to achieve.

‡‡         The Design

One of the biggest challenges for church technical staff is to decide when you can design a system yourself and when you need to bring in outside help in the form of an A/V integrator. I am a big proponent of using A/V integrators for large-scale projects. We have to be honest with ourselves as church technicians. Most of us don’t come from an extensive system design or A/V integration background. An A/V integration firm specializes in just this sort of project. They can handle the permitting and the coordination with other trades such as electrical, rigging and mechanical, the things that most church techs simply are not good at. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Being a church technician and being an A/V designer or integrator are two different specialties. Sure, there is a lot of overlap between the two, but sometimes you just have to bring in the big guns to make sure a project is done right. You also have to ask yourself, if a major upgrade project is approved, do you have the time in your week to pull all of the cable, do the terminations, rack up the gear, wire and test everything? I’m guessing the answer is no, unless you just love working for free.

Here’s a great way to determine whether or not you need the help of an A/V integrator. Ask yourself if your upgrade project has implications beyond just A/V. For example, does the project require new conduit, electrical upgrades or mechanical upgrades such as HVAC for a rack room or wiring closet? Are there implications for your IT team that require coordination? Do permits need to be pulled for the work that needs to be done? If the answer is yes to any of the above, you should consider bringing in outside help. Ideally, you should develop a relationship with an A/V integration firm that you trust. This is a company that you can depend on when you have problems and also a company that can sell you gear from time to time when you just need to make a box sale.

‡‡         The Pitch

Ultimately, you are going to have to pitch your upgrade projects to someone such as a board of trustees, maybe your church council or another group of church leadership. in some cases, you’ll have a friendly group that supports your efforts, and in some cases it will be a bunch of skeptics and naysayers that want to kill your project before it gets off the ground. I’ve encountered both many times over the years. Here are some of the legitimate questions that arise that you should be prepared to answer for any system upgrade…

  • What problems will the upgrade solve?
  • What improvements will be noticeable to the congregation?
  • How long with the solution you are proposing last? Will it need to be replaced again in a certain number of years, and if so, how long?
  • How will you handle warranties and maintenance? Have you budgeted for maintenance on the proposed system?
  • Did you receive multiple bids on this design? If not, why, and how do you know that you’re getting fair and reasonable pricing if you only got one bid?

‡‡         Getting It Done!

Once you have received approval to move forward with a project, it’s all about project management and making sure that system is installed successfully. This part of an upgrade can be challenging in and of itself. You need to manage when gear is ordered, when it arrives, how it’s stored and ultimately, how it is installed. If you’ve got an A/V integrator on board, a lot of those logistics will be handled for you. If you’re doing it on your own, well, it’s all up to you. Careful planning and time management will be of critical importance. Try to time major projects so they coincide with your slow season, which will allow you more time to get the project done and ultimately to be successful.

Vince Lepore is the technical director at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando and teaches live production at Full Sail University.

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