What Do You Recommend?

Anthony Coppedge has a good post at his blog about the way people ask for equipment recommendations. I laughed when I read it because just the night before, I had used the exact same illustration. As I talked about in Asking for Help, I get several requests for advice on equipment a month (sometimes several a week). I'm cool with that; as an equipment geek, I'm more than happy to talk gear with anyone. 

I'm amused sometimes when the question comes in like this, however, "We want to get a new mixer for our church, what do you recommend?" Most times, that's the e-mail. Well, that's not true, a lot of times people will tell me they read the blog and really enjoy it. Stroking the ego is a great way to get people to respond to your emails .

As you can probably guess though, there's not really enough information there to make any kind of recommendation. I get this question often enough that I have a standard list of questions that I reply with. If you ask me that, here's what you'll get in reply:

What is driving the desire to get a new board? Digital desks offer recallable setups, internal dynamic and effects capabilities, digital signal transport, and it's the latest technology; but you may or may not benefit from those features. 

What are the requirements of the new board (channel count, mix busses, outputs, type of output--analog or digital)?

What are the goals of the new board? Ease of use, improved sound quality, increased feature set, more I/O, smaller footprint, elimination of outboard gear, better monitoring & metering...there's a lot to consider.

What kind of monitoring system do you use (wedges, IEMs, Aviom, etc.)?

Who operates the board, and what is their experience level? Who would train new operators on the new board? Who will train them 2 years from now?

Who will be installing the new board? If it will be installed by someone at the church, what is their level of expertise? Or will dealer installation be required?

What does the existing infrastructure look like? Do you have a permanently installed snake? How many channels? Where is the amp rack, and what kind of loudspeaker management do you have?

What does the rest of the system look like? Do you have a rack of external effects, compressors and the like? How much of it is worth keeping?

What kind of budget do you have?

Of course, that is not an exhaustive list to make a recommendation, but it at least gets the conversation going. The funny thing is, when I reply with this list of questions, about 1/3 of the time, I never hear from the person again. Were they just looking for a blanket recommendation? Did they not want to do the hard work of really determining what the best fit for their church is? I'm guessing my experience is not unique.

If you ask any of the great people who write blogs on church technology for a recommendation on equipment, you will likely get the same helpful response. Most of the guys I know are more than happy to share their knowledge. And I'm pretty sure none will answer the "which mixer" question with, "You should buy a _insert your favorite mixer here_." 

Spending money in a church is serious business. People give money to the church with the expectation that it will be spent to advance the Kingdom and help people. Those of us with the authority to spend it need to really weigh out what we're spending it on. And sometimes that means really thinking through our options.

So ask the questions, but be prepared to be answered with more questions. And really think through your options. Just because we use an M7, doesn't mean it's the best choice for you (and when Upper Room moves, we won't be using an M7 anymore...). Just because North Point uses a Digi Venue doesn't mean it's the best choice for you either. Would I like a Venue? Sure, but I'd probably have to make do without speakers...  

With that said, let's get some dialogs going!