Total Cost of Ownership

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) sounds like a highly abstract concept. But it’s really not. It’s also something that churches—sadly—tend to miss out on. TCO is simply a calculation of what a particular product or service is going to cost you during its life. TCO has become popular in automotive circles, with some manufacturers boasting about the fact that while their car might cost a little more to buy, it will cost less to own. At least in theory.

Missing TCO Calculations

TCO can be missed in several ways. Sometimes, a church will buy a particular piece of gear—sometimes a very expensive piece—that will dig into their cash reserves pretty significantly. Projectors are a great example of this. A really bright, say 15K, projector can cost well over $20,000-50,000. That’s a lot of money. However, it will also cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 to re-lamp it. And at that brightness level, re-lamping is going to happen every 500-800 hours of use, which is right around a year (at least for many churches).

So not only did you spend, let’s call it $30K, on a projector, you can figure on another $20K in lamps over the next 5-7 years of life. And we haven’t even talked about filter replacements, electricity costs or service. Costs on this imaginary projector (that’s not that imaginary) will easily exceed $60K over the life of the unit. Did anyone think about that or did the initial purchase price double as a complete surprise?

Other times, a church will buy the cheapest piece of gear they can find, thinking they are saving money. However, what they find out is that the consumables cost of that gear is far more expensive than a slightly more expensive piece of gear. Ink jet printers are a classic example here. I’ve seen churches replace older, heavy duty color laser printers with newer “cheaper” ones because the toner cartridges are 1/2 the cost of the old ones. What no one noticed was that the new cartridges print about 1/8 as many pages, which quadruples the per page costs and irritates the users who find the printers always out of toner.

Do Your Homework

Sometimes, it’s hard to choose between two seemingly comparable pieces of equipment. What you need to look at, besides initial cost, is total operating costs. I’ve compared projectors based on bulb and filter life plus electricity and found brand A to be almost 50% less expensive over a 5 year period than brand B. And these are two projectors with output and picture quality close enough to be called “the same.”

Rechargeable batteries are another great example. Yes, it might cost you a few hundred dollars to get into the game once you purchase chargers and the initial stock of batteries. But from that point on, your annual battery costs could drop to under $100 to handle replacements. At my last church, we went from spending over $1500/year to about $200; and the only reason I spent that much is because we had 5 rooms using rechargeable cells, and the ones in the student rooms go missing more regularly. 

It’s Real Stewardship

If you want to win friends and influence people—especially your senior leadership—continually present them with plans that demonstrate you know how to make purchases that represent an excellent value over time. Showing them that you’ve done TCO calculations, and have chosen equipment with that in mind will show them you’re serious about leading your department well. 

Of course, TCO doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s just one data point. But it’s an important one. You still have to consider usability, whether the product fits your needs and if the volunteers can use it. Still, TCO can often be the tipping point between brand A and brand B. Choosing the one with the lower overall lifetime cost will pay off in more ways that one. Trust me.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.


Photo courtesy of Flaxe

Photo courtesy of Flaxe

Back in the day, Heinz ran an ad campaign for their ketchup called “Anticipation.” If featured all sorts of people eagerly anticipating something, which of course, ran parallel to their eager anticipation of the delicious red sauce coming out of the bottle. It was clever, and by licensing the classic Carly Simon song, memorable. 

The Mac Dictionary App defines Anticipate with the following two possibilities:

1) guess or be aware of (what will happen) and take action in order to be prepared: they failed to anticipate a full scale invasion.

2) look forward to: Stephen was eagerly anticipating the break from the routine of business.

Heinz was referring to the second definition. Today, I want to focus on the first; to guess or be aware of what will happen and take action in order to be prepared (especially the last part).

I am becoming convinced that one of the keys to being a great tech leader is to anticipate. We need to be aware of what will likely happen, and prepare in advance for that eventuality. This is not nearly as hard as it sounds.

For example, take a look at the service order around Wednesday or Thursday. See an interview on the list? You know that means you will likely need a handheld or two prepped and ready to go for service. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before service starts for someone to tell you that they will need two handhelds for the interview. You know what is going to happen, and what will be required. Prepare ahead of time.

If your worship leader sometimes (but not always) stops and prays between songs, get in the habit of dumping the effects on her voice at the end of a song so if she does pray, there won’t be 3 seconds of reverb at the beginning of the prayer. Prepare in advance.

If you always do a big Christmas production that requires extra wireless mics and lights, start booking them in late October; don’t wait for someone to tell you about it in early December. 

When I was a TD, I was told on many occasions by my boss that he appreciated the fact that he didn’t need to manage me. I hear from a lot of tech guys that they hate how much “management” their boss exerts on them. The reason I didn’t have that issue is that I anticipated what needed to be done, and got it done it before he had to say anything. Thus, he never felt the need to track my movements and monitor my time. I just got it done, and he didn’t worry about it.

If you want to enjoy the same freedom, anticipate the needs and deal with them before someone else has to tell you to do so. This works in concert with one of my earlier posts, Do a Good Job. If you learn to anticipate well, and then do a good job, you will enjoy a level of freedom in your work that will make your job a real joy. Fail at those tasks, and expect to have a lot of micromanaging in your life. The choice is yours.


Try New Things

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine

One thing about working in the church is that it happens pretty regularly. Every week, in fact. That can be good because you get plenty of opportunities to practice and hone your craft. But it can also be bad because it’s so…routine. For the most part, church services don’t vary much. Most churches get into a rhythm and stay there. Three songs, announcements, offering, message, dismissal. It’s a formula, but it works. People know what to expect. But it isn’t necessarily a breeding ground for growing your skill set. That’s why we as technical artists have to stay self-motivated to grow. And the best way to grow is to try new things. 

Can The Best Get Better?

When I was in high school, I really liked the band Rush. Still do, in fact. I remember listening to Moving Pictures, Exit…Stage Left, Signals, Hold Your Fire over and over again. I saw them live during the Moving Pictures tour, and was blown away. Neil Peart, the drummer, was particularly notable. I’ve always been fascinated by drummers, and Neil is arguably one of the best in the business. The guy is simply a monster and has a seemingly unbelievable ability to disconnect his arms and legs and play four completely separate rhythms at once. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing.

While watching a documentary on the band a while back, I learned that about 15-20 years into his career, a time when most would consider him one of the best rock drummers in the world, he decided he wasn’t playing up to his potential. He found an instructor and started taking lessons. He changed his entire technique and sure enough, became a better drummer. It takes a rare mix of drive and humility to want to improve when you’re already that good. 

We Have To Try

The thing that struck me the most about Neil’s story is that he was willing to try to get better. It’s completely possible that it wouldn’t work. It’s possible that messing with his technique would make him a worse drummer instead of better. But he tried anyway. He tried something new, and he grew. 

I have found that most times, when I try something new I grow. Not everything I try ends up the way I thought it would. I’ve tried mixing techniques that have failed miserably. But I learned from them. No matter what the outcome is, we always learn when we try something new. Sometimes all we learn is to never do that again. But that is a lesson. 

Some friends of mine recently had a baby. We visited them the other night and it was fascinating to watch her crawl around the floor. She tries everything. Usually, she tries to eat it. But she’s learning at a tremendous rate. The other night, I think she learned that a remote control has no nutritional value, but is fun to chew on. That’s something. 

We should have the same innate curiosity as a baby. Try a new audio effect. Try a new lighting look. Try a different font for your lyrics. If we are serious about getting better at our craft, we should be constantly seeking out new ideas to try and trying them. Simply reading about something on this or any other blog but never trying it defeats the purpose. 

I am a demonstrably better audio engineer than I was 5 years ago because I’ve spent hours talking with other audio engineers and trying things out. 

Don’t Be Afraid

Don’t ever be afraid to try something. It might work; it might not—that’s not the point. Try, learn, grow, repeat. Do that for a few years—or better yet, the rest of your life—and you’ll be better at whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re not getting better at what you do, what’s the point?

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

SALT Special for CTA Readers

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Ok, so you guys know that Van and I are big fans of the SALT conference. Not only is it’s organizer and leader, Luke McElroy, a good friend of mine, it’s one of those special conferences that truly seeks to inspire and refresh technical and visual artists in the church. I love the sense of community that happens each year, and I have met many of you at the previous two conferences. This year for me, it has the added bonus of being 20 minutes from my house. I’m digging living in Nashville!

SALT is Coming!

We’re at the end of September, and SALT is just a few weeks away. The conference is almost sold out for the year, but we have a deal for you. Luke has generously made available a special discount code that will save you $20 off each and every ticket you buy. Use the code AUDIOROCKS to save $20. 

What Can You Expect?

If you’ve never been to SALT and you’re on the fence about coming, here are some things you can look forward to:

• There will be over 45 classes on topics such as ideation, creative leadership, audio and technical planning. The lineup of people teaching these classes is amazing. Luke and his team have done an incredible job of bringing in people who are not only great at what they do, but have a genuine passion for helping others get better. Hanging out with the instructors is one of the highlights for me. 

• Keynotes include Erwin McManus (Mosaic in LA), Blaine Hogan (Willow Creek) and Alex Seeley (former Planet Shakers). These are creative, passionate people. I don’t know about you, but I need to be inspired frequently. This is a great way to be encouraged and inspired.

• Hear from the brand new Art of Audio track including Andrew Stone, Brad Duryea, Van, me and more! This year Luke asked me to help coordinate an audio track of classes. I called in some favors of some of our favorite audio gurus to make sure you’ll learn something new. 

• Community groups. One thing we talk about over and over again is how much we need community among technical artists. SALT is about the only conference that I know of that not only encourages community, but schedules it. You’ll get to meet and talk with others who are just like you, offering encouragement and the opportunity to encourage. This is one of the highlights of the week.

You Need to Be There

Of course, you also have the chance to hang out with Van, me, Duke and many other CTW regulars. We love meeting you guys and always look forward to the conversations we have. Basically, it’s a few days of refreshment, encouragement, inspiration and fun. Plus, you get to hang out in the greatest city in the world, Nashville. 

So here’s what you need to do; go to and register. Use the code AUDIOROCKS to save $20. Then figure out how to get here and where to stay. The website offers suggestions on both. Then get ready for a few great days that will keep you going for a long time. And do make sure to say hi to Van, Duke and me while you’re here. And come to our classes, or we’ll be sad.