Cutting the Budget

As most of you know, we're in the throws of getting ready to launch Upper Room out on it's own as a new, independent church. And that means new gear. A lot of it, potentially. As we look for new worship space, we're coming to the conclusion that wherever we end up, we'll be doing some sound, lighting and video upgrading. That's the good news.

The bad news is that apparently, we're in the midst of the greatest economic crisis ever known to man (according to the minute by minute news reports). I think it's greatly over-rated, and wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the "crisis" on my personal blog. Even the Church is feeling the pinch; singing the blues and looking for a bailout almost as earnestly as GM. This is tragic to me on many levels. If anyone, and any organization, should be able to successfully weather tough economic times, it's Christ-followers and the Church. If we really took the Bible seriously, and followed it's teachings on money, stewardship, borrowing, lending and giving, we would not be nearly as effected by this. We could be a light to the world, with a great testimony saying, "See, this is how we're called to live. Come, hang with us, we'll help you through." Instead, we've lived so much like the world that we're now suffering, just like the world. But I digress...

Regardless of the actual state of economic affairs, perception is reality and it's looking like our budget is shrinking. Personally, I'm OK with this. I grew up near New England, and my ancestry is Dutch, so I'm pretty much a cheapskate by nature. Which is not to say I buy the cheapest thing available, but I always go for the best value. And right now, value is the order of the day.

A month ago, I presented a budget for sound, lights and video for a room yet to be determined. It was not quite a "dream" budget, but it was pretty cushy. I didn't go for a Venue or a PM5D, because those are just way overkill for a church of 600-800. I also didn't go for an M7 for the same reason. I spec'd either an LS9 or a RSS M-400 with digital snakes. I went with a pretty good compliment of wireless and Aviom IEMs, and all new ancillary gear. For lighting, I went a bit high, looking at an ETC Ion, and moving fixtures (mainly for their high coverage to amps-needed ratio--I'm trying not to spend a fortune on electrical). For video, I specified a new iMac, ProPresenter, a couple of 6,500K projectors and new screens.

All told, it was a solid budget with a lot of bang for the buck. It also looks like it was quite a bit high. So that means the pencil needs to be sharpened again. But where to cut? Ah, that is the question, grasshopper. As Ralph Machio learned in The Karate Kid, we must have balance. 

As I discussed in a few previous posts on design principles (here and here), the first thing we went back to is this: What are our values? This is still a work in process, and we have time on the calendar to really hammer that our after the new year. But we have a few things we know for sure. First, Upper Room has always been know for high quality music. We don't want that to change. That means the sound system needs to sound good. And as much as I'd love to hang a Meyer or d&B or L'Acoustics rig, I don't think we have the budget. Still, we need to hang something that sounds pretty good. 

That also means that we need a solid signal path prior to the speakers. And that may or may not mean digital. While a digital board would be nice, there's nothing wrong with analog, and we may well choose an A&H GL series, especially if it frees up dollars for a better speaker hang. I also cut almost all of our wireless; replacing 4 wireless IEMs with 4 Aviom stations saves some dollars real fast. I cut all new drum mics, instead opting to stick with the ones we have. They may not be "the best," but they are certainly workable. 

Lighting may take the biggest hit. We don't to a ton with lighting right now, and while we'd love to be able to utilize some of the cool atmospheric effects moving lights can provide, we'd rather have excellent sound, and OK lighting. 

Still, the entire package needs to be considered. For example, when you compare a A&H GL2800-40 to an RSS M-400, it looks like the GL is close to $5,000 cheaper. However, when you start adding in things like an analog snake, 6-8 channels of compression, effects and the additional install wiring, the difference drops to closer to $2,000. $2K is $2k, and if it comes down to that, we'll go with the GL. On the other hand, the savings doesn't appear to be worth the cost. 

The same is true for lighting. While it appears cheaper to buy a 12-18 conventional fixtures, especially compared to even 6 moving lights, when you start to add up the installed cost, the difference is small. In fact, depending on the room, it could actually cost more to install conventionals because of the greatly increased need for wiring, dimming and signaling. Without a building to get bids for, I can't compare the cost directly, but when we do decide on one, that will be part of the equation. Since we'll be renting, if I have $25,000 to spend on lighting, I'd rather spend $20K on intelligent fixtures we can take with us when we leave and $5K on wiring upgrades than $20K on wiring and dimming with only $5K for conventional fixtures.

Again, it all comes down to balance, and knowing where you can get the biggest bang for the buck. If I have to buy Whirwind IMP DI's instead of Radials to save a few hundred dollars to put toward better speakers I will, because speakers are harder to change and make a bigger difference. Cutting wireless IEMs not only saves on the transmitters and packs, but also eliminates the need for antenna combiners and big antennas. More $$ for speakers. 

I now have A, B, C (and even D for lighting) budgets. Depending on which you pick in each category, I have a workable system for 42% of my original design. Is it ideal? No. Does it give us all the functionality we want? Not really. But would it get us through the next year or two and still deliver acceptable to good results? Yup. 

Personally, I'm still trusting in God's ability to supersede the economy and provide for us a system that will be excellent and value-packed. While we may not get our "A" level system, I really believe we'll get a really good one. And I'm not done shopping yet. After I re-did my IT budget, I went shopping and found an additional 10% in savings. But I didn't stop there. By re-using some existing equipment and tweaking what I am going to buy, I'll save another 20%. It's just how I roll. Which in today's world, is a good thing!