Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

The Trouble with Consequences

A while back, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, This Week in Tech, with Leo Laporte. One of his guests was Cory Doctorow, a writer, journalist and blogger. Several times during the show, Cory made reference to the problem people have making good decisions now when the consequences don’t appear for a long time. Take smoking; people smoke today because they won’t get cancer tomorrow—it may be 10, 20 or 40 years from now. People will post all kinds of embarrassing, personal or private information on Facebook today, not realizing that in a few years a potential employer will have full access to it. We humans don’t have a good natural sense of balancing the long-term consequences against a decision we need to make today.

What does this have to do with technology in the church? Plenty! I’ve been writing and fielding a lot of questions over at my blog the last few weeks in the area of system design and church construction projects. My advice is always the same, and it comes from some 20 years of experience working in the church production world; consider your choices carefully—especially with infrastructure—because you’ll live with them for a long time. 

Consider the church that doesn’t bother to have an acoustician review their worship center plans. It may have been beautifully designed by an architect (who has no real understanding of acoustics), and will look wonderful, but if the space has excessive reflections, standing waves, flutter echos, bass build up and other anomalies that produce poor intelligibility, it will not function well for the life of the building. What seemed like a good cost-cutting measure up front turns out to be a disaster and will likely lead to a multi-million dollar re-build of a new room because the first one didn’t work. 

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, either. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that in his church, the HVAC guys located the thermostat for the worship center on the back wall of the stage—hey, it’s easy to get at, right? Except when it needs to be adjusted during the service…

Or consider the church that put in a new PA that they got a great deal on. It wasn’t necessarily the right PA for the room, but it was a little more modern than what they had. Coverage is horribly uneven, and it creates significant echoes bouncing off the back wall, but it was a great deal. Sadly, it will be expensive to tear out and replace with a proper PA. 

Last year, we went through a complete lighting system overhaul. One of the reasons we had to completely re-do the entire system (conduit, wire, dimmers, control, the whole bit) was because the previous system wasn’t installed properly. Even the wiring was too bad to fix, so we started over. We spent a good 6 months on the design of the new system. This may seem excessively long; however, I wanted to go over every single drop, each network port and every other decision 3-4 times with a few outside people to make sure we were setting ourselves up to succeed over the long run. Since the budget was tight, we put money into things that will be hard to change later. For example, we pulled wire for over 120 dimming circuits, but only bought 80 channels of dimmers. We can easily slide dimmer trays in later, but adding wiring is a lot harder. We probably have 25-40% more networking ports than we’ll ever need, but it was easy to pull them while the electricians were there. I spent hours sitting in my office looking at drawings and trying to think about how the system would be used in 5-7 years. 

I understand the reality of budgets; but too often we tend to go for immediate gratification (moving or LED lights, digital consoles and such) when we should be thinking about long-term system functionality. It’s important that we as techies lead the charge for thinking about the long-term, if for no other reason that we’ll be the ones suffering the consequences if we don’t!

What’s your biggest infrastructure miss?

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7 Comments

  1. Charlie

    Conduit and infrastructure is always a struggle for us. We had AC installed in our sanctuary about 5 years ago. When they did the install, they blocked off access to the crawl space under FOH. When they ran duct work in the crawlspace, rather than moving conduit runs, they simply disconnected them and let the cable run around the duct work and then back into the other conduits. Improper oversight on projects and upgrades can lead to disasters in existing installs.

  2. jliechty200@gmail.com

    Most of the infrastructure in the building in which I now serve was installed before I was there. The building was built in the late 1980's with technical equipment "designed" within the scope of use of a traditional Baptist church. They over-specified infrastructure for their requirements at the time, but in numerous places the contractors played the game of "we'll cut this out and you can't do a thing about it because you didn't put it in writing with enough specificity." Today, we're continually encountering issues such as not having enough audio lines, not having enough conduit space to run the number of lines that we'd like, and so forth.

    Enough about "them," what has my biggest miss been? Time will tell, but when we installed network lines last year, we used Cat5 (no -e) that was donated by someone who had rescued it from a building that was about to be demolished. When we [hopefully] upgrade to a digital console, this may necessitate that we pull Cat5e/Cat6/Cat6a for the digital snake, in a conduit that will have a hard time taking much more. I can't wait to try to convince leadership that we need to pull more of the "same stuff" that we "already have plenty of," and that we'll actually have to spend money on it this time instead of using the leftovers we already have.

    (disclaimer: I've not been serving at this church long enough to make any really bad infrastructure decisions yet, so my story isn't that great πŸ™‚

  3. jliechty200@gmail.com

    Most of the infrastructure in the building in which I now serve was installed before I was there. The building was built in the late 1980's with technical equipment "designed" within the scope of use of a traditional Baptist church. They over-specified infrastructure for their requirements at the time, but in numerous places the contractors played the game of "we'll cut this out and you can't do a thing about it because you didn't put it in writing with enough specificity." Today, we're continually encountering issues such as not having enough audio lines, not having enough conduit space to run the number of lines that we'd like, and so forth.

    Enough about "them," what has my biggest miss been? Time will tell, but when we installed network lines last year, we used Cat5 (no -e) that was donated by someone who had rescued it from a building that was about to be demolished. When we [hopefully] upgrade to a digital console, this may necessitate that we pull Cat5e/Cat6/Cat6a for the digital snake, in a conduit that will have a hard time taking much more. I can't wait to try to convince leadership that we need to pull more of the "same stuff" that we "already have plenty of," and that we'll actually have to spend money on it this time instead of using the leftovers we already have.

    (disclaimer: I've not been serving at this church long enough to make any really bad infrastructure decisions yet, so my story isn't that great πŸ™‚

  4. yeshua11@me.com

    Well being that we don't have a building, we don't technically have any infrastructure…but I would say our biggest mistake when we moved out of our building was the severity of our system downgrade…..(which wasn't under my control)

    We used to have a 32 channel mixer with a 32X8 snake going to the stage (we weren't using all 32 channels, but we were using probably about 16 or so)….well we sold that stuff then bought a 8 channel mixer and a 7X2 snake…..We are bearing with it…but I've run into numerous weeks over the last 5 years that I could have used another 3-8 channels depending what was going on….I think a lot of people have realized this big mistake because on a weekly basis now I have to say "Sorry, can't do that, not enough channels from the stage"….if I at least had the lines from the stage, I could unplug and plug in when I need to get a different instrument….but thats not the case….

    oh well…all I can do is keep trying to upgrade the system…and keeping asking to do more so that eventually when I say we need to get X channels on our board, there will be less chance of complaining about the cost associated with it because they will see the need for it….

    one day we have what we need, in the mean time, we'll deal with it….

  5. yeshua11@me.com

    Well being that we don't have a building, we don't technically have any infrastructure…but I would say our biggest mistake when we moved out of our building was the severity of our system downgrade…..(which wasn't under my control)

    We used to have a 32 channel mixer with a 32X8 snake going to the stage (we weren't using all 32 channels, but we were using probably about 16 or so)….well we sold that stuff then bought a 8 channel mixer and a 7X2 snake…..We are bearing with it…but I've run into numerous weeks over the last 5 years that I could have used another 3-8 channels depending what was going on….I think a lot of people have realized this big mistake because on a weekly basis now I have to say "Sorry, can't do that, not enough channels from the stage"….if I at least had the lines from the stage, I could unplug and plug in when I need to get a different instrument….but thats not the case….

    oh well…all I can do is keep trying to upgrade the system…and keeping asking to do more so that eventually when I say we need to get X channels on our board, there will be less chance of complaining about the cost associated with it because they will see the need for it….

    one day we have what we need, in the mean time, we'll deal with it….

  6. jblasongame@gmail.com

    when we moved into our permanent facility nine years ago we put in "a lot" of future's conduit running through various parts of the building. Three years ago my electrician came to me when I wanted to pull something from one end of the building to the other and said, "sorry, can't do it" because all the future conduit we installed was already full! The same was true for our power infrastructure. Over the years we've had to add 200A to our main sanctuary and 100A to our student ministry room and we have power needs that we can't meet because we simply can't add more power panels in the electrical rooms.

  7. jblasongame@gmail.com

    when we moved into our permanent facility nine years ago we put in "a lot" of future's conduit running through various parts of the building. Three years ago my electrician came to me when I wanted to pull something from one end of the building to the other and said, "sorry, can't do it" because all the future conduit we installed was already full! The same was true for our power infrastructure. Over the years we've had to add 200A to our main sanctuary and 100A to our student ministry room and we have power needs that we can't meet because we simply can't add more power panels in the electrical rooms.

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