Audio guys can be snobs when it comes to gear. But the reality is, we can’t always have our favorites. Sometimes, it’s a simple budget issue. For Coast Hills, we didn’t have the budget for Meyer, d&b or L’Acoustics. If I had held out for those brands because they have more cachet, we would not have a new PA at all. The money is just not there. But the church can afford RoomMatch. And having heard it, and after some considerable evaluation, I’m convinced we haven’t sacrificed that much.
Is RoomMatch as good as a L’Acoustics Kara rig? Maybe not. Will the average person notice a big difference between those two? Probably not. Will the average person notice the upgrade from what we had to RoomMatch? Absolutely. I’ll take that outcome over no change at all.
Lighting guys can be snobs, too. Some will say, “If it’s not Varilite, it’s not in my rig.” Or Martin. Or High End. Whatever. In the past, we’ve rented about 6 VL2500s for Easter. Those are great fixtures, to be sure. But this year, we rented 18 Elation Platinum Spot 5R Pros. Are they as good of a fixture as the VL2500? Not really. The panning isn’t as smooth, the color mixing isn’t as nice and we had one go flaky on us. However, we made a bigger visual impact with 18 of them than we ever did with the 6 VLs for the same money.
And you know what? If I were buying moving head fixtures for Coast Hills, I would probably go with Elation. No, they’re not as rugged as a Varilite. But, we can afford more of them, and they would be fine for what we’d need them for.
Use What Fits
When I say “fits” I mean both budget and application. If you’re at a big church with big budgets and can afford the best gear, go for it. But if you’re at a smaller church with small budgets, don’t feel bad about going with brands with lower cool factor. Sometimes, the smaller companies innovate really well and come up with great solutions at great price points. Don’t discount them because they are not what the big church or big tour is using.
I’ve talked with guys who are at smaller churches with all volunteer tech teams who are convinced they need a Digico at FOH and a Grand MA at lighting. Those are great pieces of kit, but they do have a steep learning curve, as well as big price tags. In a smaller setting with lower production demands, there are better options. Never feel bad about choosing the best option for your church; even if it’s not what all the cool kids are using.
Get Good Advice
In my new role, I find myself helping churches decide what to buy. While I have my preferences on what I like, I have to set those aside and make sure I’m recommending what is best for them. I recently steered a church toward a Yamaha QL away from a Digico SD9. Personally, I would prefer the SD9 any day. But in this setting the QL makes much more sense. Not only is it considerably less money—and they were already at the top of their budget—it’s much more friendly to non-professional operators with zero digital console experience (and 20 years of analog experience).
When purchasing equipment, make sure whoever is recommending what they are recommending knows your situation and how it will be used. Make sure they aren’t just giving you their stock solution. It would be a lot easier for me to have a “small church package” of gear that I can price and sell. But it would not likely be the best fit for everyone. So we stay custom for each church.
I’ve always been a contrarian, so this concept is not foreign to me. But I write this to encourage those of you who are nervous about not doing what everyone else is doing. They used to say, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” That may have been true, but a lot of companies missed out on better options because someone took the safe route.
Don’t be a gear snob. Get what works for your church. Everyone will be better off for it.
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One of the highlights of our Easter service for me this year was our acoustic set. “Set” is probably an overstatement; it was a single song. We did All Sons and Daughters’ Your Glory/Nothing But The Blood. As we were brainstorming the best way to do this, we hit on the idea of doing it sort of bluegrass style with the musicians clustered around a single microphone.
As we talked about it, we didn’t think we could pull that off, but I thought we could do two mic’s in front for the vocals and guitars. A small acoustic drum kit (kick, snare, hat) would be in a rolling platform we could bring in for that song. We would have the bass and cello players stay where they were, the keys player could play accordion from keys world. It sounded great in theory; but we’d never done anything like this before. So we thought we should test it.
Figure-Eight for the Win. Almost.
We own a pair of AKG C414 IIs. As multi-pattern mic’s, one of the options is figure-eight. I thought it would be cool to position the two guitar players facing each other on one mic, and the two vocals facing each other on the other. In our testing, it seemed to work OK. But when the rest of the band got there, it wasn’t happening. We muddled through rehearsal, but I don’t think anyone was really happy with the result.
I went home and thought about it for a while. A few days went by and I decided I would rather have the mic’s in a wide cardioid pattern with the two pairs facing the audience. I suggested this to Justin, our worship leader and he completely agreed.
Cardioid for the Win. Really.
This actually worked. As soon as we tried it out at Saturday’s rehearsal, we all knew it was the right call. The musicians felt better leaning in to the mic as they were leaning in towards the audience. My gain before feedback went up quite a bit, which made everything sound better. I was running both mic’s through the two channels of Portico 5045 (aka “The Magic Box”), which further helped clean them up. This was what we were going for.
The Rest of the Band
House left to right, we had the accordion played by our keys player. I decided to bring my Heil PR-40 in for this one. It sounded really good and required almost no EQ. So that was easy. Our cellist has a pickup in his cello, so again, easy. For the acoustic drum kit, our drummer brought in a small kick a snare and hat. I put a Beta 91 in the kick and stuck an old SM-81 on a boom stand for the rest. I wasn’t concerned about getting a huge drum sound, and he played with brushes. It was more of a vibe. Our bass player brought in his Hofner, which has a nice fat sound that stayed out of the way of the vocals.
Lighting Sets the Mood
As is the trend these days, we went with a tungsten look for this tune. My LD Thomas did a great job creating a simple look with the movers, and added some Parnells for up-lights at the feet of the four up front. In contrast to the rest of the music set which was full of color and movement, this song was pretty sparse and simple.
For many, this song was the highlight of the service. I thought it carried the most emotion and weight and felt really good. The only downside to this song is that I don’t feel the mix on video really captures what was happening in the room. Our broadcast mix is really dialed for the big songs and speaking; but I didn’t have time to get this dialed in as well as I hoped. Still, it’s not bad, and I’m including it here for you to see what we did.
Some of my friends (cough…Andrew Stone…cough) don’t like accordions and mandolins, but personally, I’d do this again in a heartbeat. It was a lot of fun.