Preparing cheeseburgers, Century 21 Exhibitionphoto © 1962 University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections | more info (via: Wylio)


For some people, especially artists, standardization is a dirty word. It dregs up images of cranking out the same boring product time after time after time. As artists, we don't want that. We want what we create to be unique and in the live production world, to fit the needs of the moment. 

With that said, I've been thinking more about how to blend my technology side with my artist side recently, and it's occurred to me that one way to do that is through the use of some level of standardization. Basically what I want to do is standardize the boring stuff so I have more time for the creative stuff. Here's how it's playing out for me right now.

I've been tasked with developing a technology strategy to update our entire campus, which includes 3 community/student/kids rooms. The current tech in those rooms, while sort of standardized, is all pretty dated, falling apart and generally not meeting current needs. After talking with the leaders of the ministries that use those rooms, I've come up with a standard equipment package that will work well for all of them.

Developing a standard equipment package is tricky business because you will be compromising somewhere. You either end up with a lower common price point and diminished capacity in some rooms, or the price can easily get too high and some rooms will be overkilled. Finding a balance between the two is a challenge.

Now, I'm not going to go into the specifics of my chosen equipment (at least in this post), because I don't want to taint your process. But I will tell you how I chose the gear. In our case, the two biggest needs were video switching and lighting. Neither is done well in any of the rooms, and I'm limited in how much equipment I can replace. 

In all three rooms, the display technology (screens and projectors) is fine for now and the foreseeable future. However, the process of getting signal to those displays is inconsistent at best, and annoyingly poor at worst. So that's all going to go. Looking at our needs for those rooms, I developed a list of possible inputs. I standardized on a wiring system and transport protocol that will work for all three rooms and looked for a switcher that would manage all that. Once I found one, video was taken care of.

Then it was on to lighting. Right now we have 3 different cheap NSI dimming panels. They are all in varying states of disrepair, and one is failing fast. I decided to go with a more expensive model from a larger, well-known company that may have more capabilities than I need for 2 of the rooms, but it's still easy to use. Yes it's going to be a little more money to "overkill" two of the rooms, but when I consider the fact that I only have to learn and train people on one light board for all our auxiliary rooms, that makes me happy. It's also better built and more reliable for the long term than the cheapies, and I'd rather buy one more expensive board and have it last 7-10 years than 4 cheap ones that I replace every 3 years. 

Finally, audio. In most of these rooms, audio needs are very simple. In one room, we already have a 32 channel, 4 group mixer. It's OK for what it is, and serves the needs of that ministry well. As that company also makes 12 and 16 channel versions of that same board, that's what we're going with. Again, it makes it easier to train people on, and as students begin serving in the kids rooms, move up to elementary and finally Jr. & Sr. high, it's all the same, only more. Ideally, all the mixers would be DiGiCo's, but that kind of blows the entire budget (an SD11 would be way overkill for an iPod, video, a mic and an acoustic guitar). But maybe someday...

As we move forward, I'll also be standardizing on things like mics, DIs and any other  ancillary equipment needed. The reasoning for all this is simple; I don't really have the time to re-do all these rooms right now. And I really don't want to have to re-do them again in a few years because I went cheap on equipment. I also don't really have the time to train people on new equipment; I don't want to do it 3-4 times on all different gear.

I want to develop one training manual that can be dropped in any room and be clear and correct. I want to have one set of manufacturers to go to if I have problems. And I want to be able to talk people through problems without trying to remember how that particular room is set up. As long as we're consistent, it will save me a lot of time and energy.

Yes, the overall cost might be higher, and yes, I've been part of churches that have to optimize every single dollar spent. However, the longer I'm doing this, the more value I put on my time. A standard equipment package will save me a ton of time, which frees me up to do what I'm called to do at Coast; lead and develop people, not work on equipment. That's an investment worth making. At least that's how I see it; what about you?

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