Necessary Endings--A Process

Image courtesy of Insomnia Cured Here

Image courtesy of Insomnia Cured Here

I love to read. I typically read two dozen books a year or more. I wish I had more time for reading, in fact. Lately, I’ve tended to alternate between fiction, or fun books and business-type books. A few weeks in church, our pastor mentioned a book he had been reading which sounded very interesting. I immediately went to my Amazon app and put the Kindle version on my wish list for purchase when I got home. The book is Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. I’m more than 3/4 of the way through now, and while there are a few standard business book clichés (you have to prune the rose bush…), it’s been very good.

The other night, after finishing another chapter, I started thinking about the concept of endings, and how it applies to the life of a TD. It occurred to me that there are probably three types of necessary endings you’ll encounter as a technical leader. And, because I’ve heard 10,000 sermons in my life, I will structure this series as an alliteration: Processes, People and Personal. Today we’ll talk about the first, and hit the other two later this week. 

Ending a Process

I’m not going to go into all the questions and diagnostics Henry goes into in the book—I suggest you buy it and read it. But I want to talk about when it’s time to change the way we do things. 

It’s been said that the last six words of a dying church are, “We’ve always done it that way.” I think the same can be true of a ministry, and in our case the technical ministry. Now, it’s true that change can be hard and many people don’t like it. However, we can get stuck doing something the same way over and over out of habit, without really noticing that it’s no longer effective. 

For Example…

When I arrived at Coast Hills in 2009, the tech team had gotten into a system of completely clearing the stage every weekend of every single cable, snake, wedge, mic stand and even extra risers. Then the next Saturday, we’d set it all up again. Most of it in the exact same place. At some point, that made sense; the church used to do a lot of outside events—sometimes several a week—which required a clear stage. 

But by the time I got there, we were doing a few a year. It simply no longer made sense to pull everything off the stage. But everyone was so used to it, it has a hard change. It was also hard work; it typically took 4 guys 90+ minutes to set up every week. Sometimes, we were cutting it close when it came to getting things line checked before the band showed up. 

The Change

As I looked over the process, it occurred to me that we were doing a lot of work and re-work unnecessarily. Within the first year, my new ATD and I embarked on building a bunch of new custom snakes that could live on the stage all the time. We build custom length cords for things that stayed in place, like the drum kit and piano. After a few months, we got to the place where we could have the entire stage set by one person in under 30 minutes. Think about that; we went from 360 man-minutes to 30! Talk about being more efficient. Strike was similarly speed up. 

We used all the extra time to come in later, and spend more time together as a team, and less uncoiling and re-coiling snakes. 

Now, you would think that everyone would be thrilled at this. But some weren’t. We lost a few of the old guys who were upset at the “new way” of doing things. But you know what, they were grumpy old sound guys who really didn’t do much but complain about everything all weekend anyway. So I was kind of glad to see them go.

The Point

Sometimes, you will find yourself in a situation where you have been doing something for so long that you don’t even know why. But things change, and if you’re not regularly evaluating what is working and what isn’t, you’re not as effective as you could be. And you’re probably working too hard, as well. Look over your processes. See if there are any that need to end. Are you still making cassettes that nobody ever pick up? Maybe CDs? What are you doing that you need to stop doing so you can be more effective? Find a way to stop it and move on. 

Sometimes, there will be a person holding you back. And that will be the topic of the next post.


Know Thy Neighbor

Too often, this is the thinking in churches. Image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

Too often, this is the thinking in churches. Image courtesy of Wesley Fryer

The other day I was having lunch with a good friend of mine. We got to talking about the TD at a church we both know, and some struggles this guy was having with his facility. My friend asked this TD if he knew that the church that literally shared the parking lot with his had a lift, and would probably let him use it. The TD’s response was—to me anyway—shocking. He said he didn’t know anyone over there, and didn’t know if they had a lift or not. 

Keep in mind, these churches are right next door. And they don’t even know each other.

My brothers, this should not be!

We’re On The Same Team

My friend and I discussed what would cause such a situation. Personally, I don’t understand it at all. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the church, and have spent most of my career in the business world. In that world, we often made alliances with “competitors” because there were things we couldn’t do. Sometimes they had a piece of equipment we didn’t, and sometimes we could help them out with a job they couldn’t handle. And we never tried to poach another’s clients.

But there’s this weird thing in the church. I see it among pastors sometimes and I think it can trickle down to the staff. They’re afraid to partner with another church because they’re afraid of losing people to the other church. Or maybe it’s because there is a minor doctrinal disagreement. Whatever.

What I love about the technical community is for the most part, we don’t care what church you’re from. You’re a TD, I’m a TD, we all have the same struggles. If I can help you or if you can help me, we both win. And so do our churches. That’s what we should be working towards. 

Know Your Neighbor

If you don’t know any tech guys at churches in your area, stop reading this right now, and go find some. Seriously. And if you share a parking lot with another church, or there’s one across the street, walk over there right now and introduce yourself. There is so much to be gained by having relationships with other tech directors in your community it boggles my mind when I talk to guys that don’t know any. 

When I moved to SoCal 6 years ago, I didn’t know anyone. Within a few months, I had made friends with several churches in the area, and had opportunity to both borrow and lend equipment for different events. If I know the church down the road has something I need for an event, and they’re willing to loan it to me, why on earth would I spend money to rent it? The same goes in reverse. 

You Need Technical Relationships

If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a hundred times; we need to be in relationship with other technical artists. What we do is unique, and most people don’t really understand us. We have problems that don’t really exist in other areas of the church. We need to have someone to talk those issues out; someone who will validate, encourage and support us. 

I believe one of the reasons TDs typically only last a few years at a church is because they try to do it solo. I know for a fact that I stayed at my last church 2-3 years longer than I would have otherwise because I have a close friend who talked me off the ledge every 3-4 months. And I did the same for him. 

Please, please, please, go find yourself another technical artist in your community and become friends with them. I know it’s scary, I know you’re an introvert and you don’t like calling people you don’t know. Get over it. You, your ministry and your church will be better for it. I promise.


Today’s post is brought to you by Digital Audio Labs, The Livemix monitor system is simple for volunteer performers to use while providing professional tools for great mixes. Featuring outstanding sound quality, color touchscreen with custom naming, 24 channels with effects, remote mixing, intercom, ambient mics, and dedicated ME knob, Livemix provides more and costs much less than competing systems.

When Cheaper is Not Less Expensive

Photo courtesy of Tim Parkinson

Photo courtesy of Tim Parkinson

Now that much of my time is spent developing AVL budgets for churches, I’ve spent a lot of time considering what constitutes a good value. One of the things I’ve noticed for a long time is that many churches shop based on price only. They may be comparing two pieces of equipment that do similar things and choose the least expensive. Sometimes that’s a good idea, but more often than not, it turns out the lowest price doesn’t equal the lowest cost. 

This is especially true when you begin to factor in the cost of labor. This has been one of the more fascinating thing for me to start looking at closely. Here’s an example that might surprise you.

A Tale of Two Microphones

Shure makes two mid-range digital wireless mic systems, the ULX-D and the QLX-D. Both offer similar audio performance, but the QLX-D brings several key features to the table. They also make a ULX-D dual and quad system, which is two and four receivers in a single rack space. 

Now, if you look at the line item pricing on the ULX-D Quad, you might think it’s a lot more expensive per-channel than both the regular ULX-D and the QLX-D. However, when you price it out with all the accessories you need for four channels of wireless, and consider the installed cost, the Quad actually comes out ahead. How can this be?

The big selling factor for the Quad is the fact that it’s four receivers in one space. The installers take it out of the box, rack it up, connect the four audio lines (or better, the Cat5 for Dante), connect power and two antenna lines and they’re done. With ULX-D single or QLX-D, they have four units to unbox, build into two rack mounted units (the receivers are normally 1/2 rack space), rack, wire, and then on the QLX-D, there’s the antenna distro. 

The extra time of doing all the work, especially when you go beyond four channels really tips the scales in the favor of the Quad. So we use it almost all the time. The more expensive product is actually less expensive for the church. Now, if a church wants to do all the install themselves and they have the time and knowledge, then the QLX-D is a better deal even with the antenna distro. 

Choosing Poorly

For years I’ve regaled you with tales of tearing out poorly chosen equipment that didn’t meet the goals of the church. This happens with speakers, wireless mic’s, projectors, lights, and a myriad of other gear. Often, it happens like this: 

The church has a need for something, say, new speakers. They’ll head down to the local Guitar Center or music shop or do some shopping at one of the large online retailers. They’ll talk to a salesman and ask, “What speakers should we buy?” The salesman may suggest something good, they may not. Speakers are bought, installed and everyone is disappointed. It may not be loud enough, clear enough or focused enough. Then they buy more speakers. If two are good, four are better, right? Then the sound gets worse. No one can figure out why the sound keeps getting worse. 

Finally, perhaps out of desperation, they’ll hire a company like the one I work for and we will actually do a design (for which we get paid), and take down all the “less expensive” speakers, and put up some good ones. Quite often, I’m taking down 2x as many speakers as we put back up, and people are stunned with the results. 

At the end of this road, the church has wasted a good deal of time, money, energy and may have even lost some members. The original intent was to save the congregation some money by not hiring one of the “expensive” integrators. But all they did was waste money and time. 

Doing it Once is Always Less Expensive

This is my rule; do it once, do it right. Spending money twice for a given system will always be more expensive than spending it once. This is just math. If you call me for a new PA and I tell you it will cost $50,000, then you decide to try to do it yourself with a $20,000 PA that we end up taking down in 2 years because it didn’t work, how much do you spend for the $50,000 PA? Hint, it’s more than $50,000. 

Here’s the bottom line: Get good advice. Take good advice.


Church Tech Budgets--End of Life

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of Ken Mayer

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of Ken Mayer

As we reach end of life, I think we’re reaching the end of this series. Again, I’m talking the lifespan of equipment, not tech directors. Last time, I made the distinction between capital expenses and budgeted expenses. One of the keys to staying on top of capital expenses is to have an end of life plan.

Every piece of equipment has a fixed lifespan; stuff just doesn’t last forever. That means that even the nice, shiny new equipment I’m putting in today will need to be replaced. And I’m not sure anyone ever considers that.

See, I think most churches look at A/V/L equipment as a one-time capital expense. They buy all the stuff they need once, and forget about it for a long, long time. At least until it breaks. At which point there is a sense of panic and urgency to get it fixed or replaced. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I decided fairly early on to run some end of life projections. The rationale was simple; I knew there was a lot of outdated gear to replace right now, but there was a significant amount of equipment that would needing replacement in about3-4 years. And when you start looking at the numbers, it wasn’t chump change. Take a look:

As you can see, we’re talking some serious dollars. Now, I’m just considering major systems; that is systems that have a price tag over $10,000. I figure the smaller stuff will just get rolled into the normal yearly operating budget. We will always have mics, DIs, single light fixtures and maybe even a video monitor or two to replace. But when it comes to the big stuff, we need to think that out in advance. And here’s why:

Over 10 years, the church needed to spend almost $300,000 to keep pace with their equipment’s end of life. Is that something that needs to be planned for? I think so.

Defining End of Life

This big can be tricky. We can’t clearly define “end of life.” Not all equipment will just drop dead at 10 years old. However, we do know that all electro-mechanical devices will begin failing at some point. We have to take some educated guesses as to when our systems will need replacing.

We also have to guess roughly how much it will cost (in today’s dollars, anyway), based on equipment I know that is roughly comparable today. Obviously, there are a ton of variables in this plan, but it’s a best guess, Mr. Sulu. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these are not budgets, they’re not completely spec’d out systems and you don’t want to be held to these numbers. Rather, it’s an estimate for planning purposes. And, you may be able to stretch some of the equipment life to even out the graph if yours looks like mine did.

Making a Plan

Once you map it out and see what your situation is, you have a basis for coming up with a plan. It’s very possible that to strictly follow an EOL plan, you would have to spend more money than the church has. So that means you have some decisions to make. You can stretch the life of the gear, but you need to know—as does leadership—that you’re running on borrowed time. You can also change the way you do services. If you have traditionally relied on a lot of moving light effects during your service, and your moving lights are beginning to fail, you either need to plan to replace them soon, or go for a different look. 

These are conversations you can have with leadership once you’re armed with information and facts. The beauty of this process is that it takes all the emotion out of it. And, you don’t look like a child constantly asking for new toys. When you present the information this way, your stock goes way up and the conversations tend to be much more civilized and productive. 

It also removes the burden from you as things start to fail. When you clearly present the problem and give leadership the responsibility of figuring out how and what to pay for, you won’t be held accountable if things start breaking. You’ve done your job—pointing out the reality of the situation, and they have to decide how to allocate funds. If you go passive-aggressive and just wait for it to break, you’ll look incompetent. Always be proactive about this. 

Well, I’m not sure this was the exhaustive, definitive guide for tech budgeting, but hopefully it’s been enough to give you some ideas on how to get started. If you have further questions, or if there are others areas I need to develop, let me know in the comments. And now, it’s time for something completely different…

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.