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To Buy or Rent…That is the Question

Vince Lepore • February 2019Sound Sanctuary • February 12, 2019

It’s a universal issue that transcends any type of business or project. Let’s say you’re putting in a raised patio deck on your house. Doing this will probably entail sinking a lot of holes in the ground for support posts. If your yard just happens to have soft, loamy soil, you could simply dig them manually, but if the earth is rocky or you have a lot of posts to sink, laying down $50 for a half-day rental of a power auger will get the job off to a quick start — and probably save your back as well. Now you could just plunk down $1,500 and buy and auger, but honestly, when are you going to use something like that again? And where will you store this beast before your next “need an auger” project?

Ironically, the same applies to church sound. And with the upcoming Lent and Easter seasons approaching, a common issue for the church technical director is deciding whether to buy or rent equipment for special services. 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.

You must consider the duration of any potential rentals. Do you simply need gear for Easter weekend, or do you need it the entire week leading up to Easter, and maybe even the weekend before? 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.

‡‡         First, Check Your 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. If you query five people about how your budget should to be used, you’ll get five different answers. Clarifying how your budget is the first step to making these types of decisions. Let’s look at some areas where churches struggle with the question of whether to rent or buy. Here we’re focused on audio gear, but video and lighting have similar considerations.

‡‡         The Wireless Issue

Thankfully, we’re past the 600/700 MHz FCC issues, but the reality is that churches typically, need to augment their available wireless mics and in-ear monitors for special services. 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, this is probably better rented than purchased. You don’t want to be sitting on a large inventory of unused wireless systems, and putting off major RF purchasing decisions until it’s absolutely necessary may be a good idea.

One issue that may affect you is mics for wireless. 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 lav 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 storage bins. These types of mics also happen to have high maintenance costs and are difficult to manage. Meanwhile, 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 Inputs, Please

Some 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 intercom in more locations, and sometimes require 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

I’ve always been the type of person that wants to buy everything, and 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.

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