Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: August 2015 (Page 2 of 2)

Building Church Budgets

Photo Courtesy of  GotCredit

Photo Courtesy of GotCredit

My friend Van and I get quite a few requests to help out with younger TDs who are charged with coming up with a church tech budget for the first time. To be sure, there’s a lot to it, and the process can be intimidating if you’ve not done much with budgets before. I am thankful that when I became a TD, I had already worked in several roles that required me to develop and stick to budgets. Today, we’ll talk about some things that will help you through this process.

Basic Budget Categories

Some churches use standard accounting categories for every purchase, while others leave it up to each department to come up with their own. I’ve worked in both. Here is a list of some standard categories you should probably have in your budget. They may be named something slightly different, but they should be here.

  • Equipment & Furniture Purchase
  • Rent & Lease
  • Repairs & Maintenance
  • Supplies

Those are the basic four. Obviously, Equipment & Furniture is a standard accounting term; you probably won’t be buying much furniture. Unless it’s new chairs for the tech booth. Equipment is just what it sounds like—gear. This would be mic’s, lighting fixtures, cameras, computers, audio interfaces, speakers, cables, etc. Anything that you will use over and over is likely an equipment purchase. Now, some churches make a distinction between capital expenses and regular E&F purchases, but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

Rent & Lease is typically where I put rental gear. We didn’t rent a lot, but we did for Christmas, Easter and VBS. VBS rental came out of the Kid’s Min budget, but Christmas & Easter were mine. Usually it was more light fixtures, but there was sometimes audio gear as well. Chances are you’re not leasing anything.

Repairs & Maintenance—the equipment you purchased needs to be maintained. Projectors need service, lighting fixtures need to be tech’d, consoles need to be cleaned. Sometimes stuff breaks and will need to be sent back in. Don’t short yourself on this category. 

Supplies are things that get used up and discarded. Batteries, gaff tape, bulbs, filters, hardware bits, things like that. Sometimes in a tech budget, weird stuff like aircraft cable and spray paint show up here. 

Optional Budget Categories

  • Books & Subscriptions
  • Conference & Travel
  • Food & Beverage
  • Independent Contractors
  • Leadership Appreciation
  • Postage & Shipping
  • Software

I used to put a little money in the budget ever year to buy a few books and maybe subscribe to a training site or online service. Some years I never spent anything, others it was a few hundred dollars. It’s good to have, though.

Conference & Travel is one that typically gets cut when money is tight. I fought for this every year for 5 years and lost every year. Some churches don’t see the value in their employees getting better at what they do, some just don’t have the money. Still, I submitted it every year because I think it’s important. 

Food & Beverage is a big one. Tech people love to eat. There are not many better ways to encourage and thank your tech team than to feed them. I spent several hundred dollars a year on F&B for my team, and they knew they were cared for.

Not every church hires independent contractors, but even if you don’t, it’s not a bad idea to budget for some. Occasionally it’s a good idea to bring an outside expert in for a weekend to help your team get better. Or maybe you have one main audio volunteer and he wants to go on vacation once in a while. Some churches pay their whole tech team, so this number is going to be bigger.

Leadership Appreciation was a nebulous category for me. I sometimes put some money in there because hey, who wants to cut appreciating leaders? I would then slide this money into something more useful like F&B and appreciate my leaders that way. 

Postage & Shipping is one many churches forget. Ever had to overnight an antenna combiner from CA to IL for repair? You’ll wish you had some money in the budget for that. Now, some might argue that the freight charge should come from repair and maybe it should. But you may have to ship back demo gear, stuff that didn’t work out or send your team a nice set of thank you cards. 

Software is often broken out because it is handled differently from an accounting perspective. We don’t buy a lot of software as TDs, but you may be looking for a new DAW, an upgrade to your video editing software, or a measurement application. 

Keeping Track

In last week’s post, I mentioned it’s important to manage your budget well. To do so, you have to keep track of your spending. Most churches will issue accounting reports each month, but I always found those hard to read, and always at least several weeks behind. So I built my own spreadsheet. I’m including my actual 2013-2014 budget spreadsheet below so you can take a look. It’s a Numbers file originally, and while I converted it to Excel for you Office users, it’s not the same. 

I tracked every single purchase and knew at any given moment where I was percentage-wise for the year. Because of this, I could come in pretty much right on or slightly under budget every year. That makes the money people very happy. Look through that spreadsheet and you can see how it works. I enter the expenses in the appropriate category tab, and it’s all tabulated on my overview sheet. The percent of year calculator is broken as we’ve gone a few years past the end of fiscal 2014, but you’ll get the idea. By knowing where we were in the year (55% left, 34% left, 21% left), I could track my remaining budget. The cells even changed color when I hit various limits.

This is getting long, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll pick up with more on developing and tracking your budget.

Budget Tracking Spreadsheet (Numbers Version)

Budget Tracking Spreadsheet (Excel Version) (Not as Cool)

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Church Tech Budgets

Image courtesy of  Emilian Robert Vicol

Image courtesy of Emilian Robert Vicol

One of our readers in Norway (you didn’t know we had readers in Norway?), Geir Kristoffersen sent me a note the other day about church tech budgets. He was looking around at various TD job descriptions and came across the following quote from one such description:



8. Manage the campus production budget to fulfill as many technical needs as possible. 

This is interesting language. “Fulfill as many technical needs as possible.” That could be read in a few different ways. It could mean, “Hey, we’re only giving you so much money. Do your best. We know it’s not enough, but do all you can.” On the other hand, it could mean, “We have high demands and we expect you to squeeze value out of every dime and get all this done.” 

What’s in a Budget?

As I pondered that thought, it started to occur to me that many younger TDs probably don’t have a lot of experience in managing budgets. And yet you are expected to manage thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for your church every year. Often, you are responsible for every dollar you spend, and you may or may not have a say in how many dollars that is. I hear from many of you who tell me there is no tech budget—you simply have to beg for funds when something breaks. 

Others of you have to submit a projected budget for the coming year, which can be especially challenging the first year or two you are in that role. Without any historical perspective, it’s hard to know how much to put down in what categories. Or what categories you even need. 

Over the next few posts, I’m going to walk you through a few concepts for developing a church tech budget. But before we do that, I want to share some of my experiences. My hope is to help lend some perspective that you are not alone in this struggle. 

Church One: Tight Budget

My first day on the job at my first church was the last day for the senior pastor. He was leaving to teach at a college. In the ensuing months as the search for a new pastor started, giving fell off. Way off. I had five rooms that had full production equipment in them, and they were used a lot. Most of the equipment was old, broken or wrong. And the budget was small to begin with. 

As we were just going into the budget cycle for the next fiscal year, I studied past budgets and began looking for areas to cut so I could start replacing equipment. That’s where I started with rechargeable batteries. An initial investment of $700 saved me $3,500. That $2,800 went a long way. Still, it was tough. I had to get every purchase approved first as cash flow was tight. It took 2 1/2 years to make any progress. But as leadership started to see results, trust, and the budget began to grow.

Church Two: Disappearing Budget

When I came on board at Coast Hills, it was during a period of great change. In the time between my first interviews and when I started, the tech budget shrank by 40%. Over the next two years, it went down by another  20-30% each year. And during that time, leadership expected everything to run as normal. By year three, it was time to start making some hard decisions. We reached the point where we could not continue to do things the way we had been. It was a hard place to be, but after some frank conversations, we found a way through. 

But as things began to turn around and I demonstrated that I could work with less—albeit at a slightly lower level of production—the budgets came back. I was able to get a capital replacement fund started based on big equipment end of life expectations. By the time I did my last budget there, leadership barely batted an eye at my submission. I had built enough trust that they looked at my projections and said, “OK, Mike’s knows what he’s doing here.” 

Geir made a great analogy in his email. He said the string is only so long, and when you get to the end, there is no more. When we manage a tech budget, we have to work with what we have. We manage it well, but it is only so big. We can only do so much. And often, it is others who determine the length of the proverbial string. 

I’m going to try to help you walk through this process. Developing a budget, establishing a capital replacement fund, and building trust. The last one cannot be overstated, either. You simply have to build trust with your leadership when it concerns your budget. So stay tuned; we have some good stuff coming ahead. 


On a Mission From God

Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues

Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues

I started re-reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians last week, and something struck me. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Galatians, and I don’t know why this never hit me until now. But the Bible is like that. You’ve probably read this, too. He starts off like this: 

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…

Notice his choice of words right here in verse 1; “sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…” Paul was, to steal a quote from the Blues Brothers, on a mission from God. Like you probably did, I pretty much skipped over that verse when I first read it. Which is pretty typical for the first few verses of most of Paul’s letters, right? We skip over as if to say, “Come on Paul, get to the good stuff.”

The Good Stuff

It doesn’t take long. And this is where it hit me. In verse 6 he writes:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.

Now, what struck me was not the fact that Paul was chiding the Galatians for turning away from the Gospel. What hit me was the intensely direct manner at which he hit them upside the head with it. We are just a few sentences into the letter and after thanking God and talking about the character of God, he jumps right into, “Guys, what the heck?”

As I continued reading, it was so evident to see Paul’s character and voice come through these words. Perhaps it’s because I just finished reading Nehemiah, which is written in a completely different tone, but the contrast was so great, I saw Paul in a whole new light. 

The Tech Connection

At this point, you may have wondered if you stumbled onto ChurchTheology instead of ChurchTechArts, but hold on, there’s a payoff here. As we read Paul’s letters, we can see that while God changed Paul from an arrogant, Christian-persecuting jerk, he left some of his personality in tact. Paul is direct, tenacious, plain spoken and downright forceful when need be. 

Think about how powerful it is that God chose someone who was hell-bent on destroying the church to build the church. As I read Paul’s writings, I can hear his passion, his love for God’s people. God chose Paul because God was going to need someone who could put up with criticism, complaints, hardship and a whole lot of skepticism from others that he was chosen by God. Paul was the man for the job. 

You Are the Man for the Job, Too

Or woman. We are equal opportunity. God called you into your role as a technical artist in His church because of who you are. One time, my friend Roy told me that it was God who gave me this crazy over-clocked brain that could process so much data and see things before they were real. He made me this way, then chose me for this task. 

And the same is true for you. God chose you for role you are in because He needed you there. Sometimes as tech guys (and girls), we can feel like no one really notices us, that we’re disposable, or someone out there is a lot better at this job than us. And while it’s probably true that there is someone better out there (there almost always is), you are where you are supposed to be. Your personality, your gifting, your skill set is what is needed right where you are. 

Have you ever thought of that? Have you ever considered that you are right where God wants you? And that He chose you—specifically—for the role you are fulfilling? You don’t need to be more like me, the TD at the big church across town or the country or anyone else. You need to be more like you. Sure, learn skills, improve your capabilities, but you are there because God needs you there. 

Spend some time this week considering your calling. How can you be more available to God in your service to Him?

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CTA Review: Ultimate Ears UE11s

As I mentioned last time, I have an enviable job. I have to somehow try to describe how these very nice, custom IEMs sound. And compare them, which means that I have more than one set. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

I was about to start in on a paragraph describing the configuration for the UE11, and how it’s marketed. But then it occurred to me that I should probably start by stating that you can’t just an IEM by its price tag; at least not in the UE line. I have UE7s, Reference Monitors, Vocal Reference Monitors (Male), UE11s, and UE18s, $850, $999, $999, $1150 and $1350 respectively. And I can’t honestly tell you that the most expensive ones are the “best.” That’s because, much like microphones, each of those is designed to do something slightly different. I always recommend the UE7s for guitar and keyboard players and most worship leaders who play guitar or keys because the frequency response profile of the 7 is perfect for that application. The midrange is really detailed and there is a slight rolloff at the high and low end which helps keep the mids clear. 

To some extent, the UE18, while it has twice the drivers as the 7, would not be as good a choice for those musicians, despite its higher price tag. This is not to say the 18 is not worth it, because they sound fantastic. I don’t know if that cleared anything up or not, but I wanted to point out that each model is designed to  work really well with a particular type of musician. And, as it turns out, they are each suited to different types of music, as I eventually discovered. 


The UE11 is marketed towards bass players and drummers. It’s a four-driver, three-way system. There are two low drivers, a mid and a high, all driven through a 3-way passive crossover network. The drivers exit through two ports—a low port and mid-high port. One of the low drivers is a “sub low,” though I’m not exactly sure at what frequency it kicks in. Frequency response is rated from 5 Hz – 22 KHz, with a sensitivity of 119 dB @ 1 KHz @ 1 mW. Impedance is 18 Ohms. I don’t really have a way to test the response down to 5 Hz, but I can report they go deep. 


The low end very satisfying with the 11s. To put it in practical terms, it’s a bit like a PA with and without a sub turned on when you compare the 7s and 11s. To further the PA comparison, when I compare the 18s with the 11s, the 11s are like a PA with both 15” and 18”  subs, while the 18s feel as though only one set of subs is active. Both have plenty of detail, and both extend to low frequencies, but the 11s just have more oomph. A bigger bass haystack in PA tuning terms. 

One thing that surprised me is that I felt like I was hearing more detail in the music with the 11s. And that’s compared to both the 18s and the Reference Monitors. As I dug into this more, I realized it was most likely because the 11’s are the most sensitive of the three (the 18s are rated at 115 dB with the RMs rated at 112 dB at 1 mW). An extra 4-7 dB will definitely reveal more detail. 

The downside of all the detail is that you can begin to hear stuff you never heard before, like distortion. While auditioning tracks for this review, I found an album that I used to really like and can’t listen to any longer due to the amount of distortion I can hear in the recording now. On the other hand, you’ll hear amazing things you never heard before, like spring reverbs and real plate reverbs. 

Of course there is more to the story. Much of it is the tuning, and my own personal frequency response. And that is one of the things that is important when selecting a set of IEMs. It’s really going to depend on what you want to hear and what you can hear. For me, the 11s sound the most pleasant. They will probably be the ones that spend the most time in my ears, which is not to say that the others don’t sound good. It’s a little like comparing a Meyer PA to an L’Acoustics PA. Both will sound great, it simply depends on what you prefer. 

With that said, the amount of detail in the low end is amazing and for all my bassist and drummer friends, these are the ones to get. If I could have only one pair of UEs, it would probably be the 11s. Again, not that the 18s, Reference Monitors or 7s aren’t great, I just like the sound of the 11s better for most of the music I listen to. Except for Jazz. For Jazz, the 7s rock. And mixing. For mixing, the RMs are my go to. But for general mixing and movie watching, I suspect the 11s will be the ones with the most hours on them. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Disclaimer, Ultimate Ears gave me a set of UE11s. FTC, you can relax now.


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