There comes an inevitable time when every House of Worship will have to upgrade or completely renovate its Audio Video System. Whether it’s simply adding video to your services or modernizing your entire A/V system utilizing the latest technology, you’ll eventually find yourself having to face what can be a daunting task. In reality this project is no different than anything else. The end result and your satisfaction with it ultimately comes down to the choices you initially make.
Articles have been written detailing the errors houses of worship make which cause them to purchase three systems before “getting it right”. You’ve all heard some variation of “if your membership can’t hear the message then the objective of the service is missed.” These articles are highly informative and well worth your time.
Whether you want to make a few additions to an existing system or perform a complete renovation, it should start with a plan. Realistically the A/V system plan is no different than a business plan. It’s simply sitting down and spending some time determining what you want to achieve both now and in the future with your A/V system.
The most significant and potentially more difficult decisions you’re going to make in the beginning is, “who is should be involved in the planning process”. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a Professional A/V Consultant or A/V Integrator within your organization, you’ll be starting this process with little to no expertise. The general default in many houses of worship is to bring the sound person into the process. Although it’s a good idea, they should not be the only person involved in the discussion. Include all people involved in your weekly services. Once you’ve gathered your team, don’t send them on fact finding missions. At this stage this is counter productive because you’re “not” looking for specific products or solutions; you’re looking for a system objective.
Why do you need this upgrade and what is your long-term vision for the A/V System? Are there problems which need to be addressed or are you trying to take your services to a new level? Are you contemplating adding contemporary musicians to your service? Do you want to add audio and/or video to an over flow area, youth room, offices, and hallways? Are there secondary locations which will need to be tied into the primary room? What is the long term vision for your ministry? Do you want to record your services? You can add a recording and editing studio to your house of worship for a fraction of what it would have cost you a few years ago. If so, plan for the infrastructure today.
If you want to keep the recording process simple, would you like to add duplication of this recording to provide copies to your shut-ins and those who missed the service? Do you hold secondary services in a language other than English? Would it be better to combine these services into one and provide language interpretation for the individual languages? What about your internet ministry? Webcasting or Podcasting, is that in your plans? Obviously, a good plan takes some reflection.
Your over all objective is going to influence the amount of money you’ll need to invest. Do you want to make the system purchase all at once or in several phases? A complex Audio Video System Upgrade or Installation will be a sizable venture. Place the A/V system too low on your priority list or treat it as an after thought and the costly “purchase misstep” odds increase. So, why does this stuff cost so much? Well… it all comes down to physics.
When putting in your primary room’s A/V system the most important consideration is the environment in which the system is going to be installed, how the system is going to be used in this environment, and how the system will respond to the environment once its installed. Some of the fundamental considerations which go into a system design are the size and shape of the room, the materials the room is constructed of, how many people will occupy the room and how enthusiastic they are during the service, the type of service itself, and what type of music is being performed and by whom. The logistics of running audio video signal throughout the venue is not always an easy task either.
The knowledge it takes to successfully interface A/V equipment into any environment takes years to accumulate. Unless you or a member of your audio team are designing A/V systems for houses of worship professionally, its unwise to assume the information needed to successfully determine what works best for your situation can be extracted from the internet or a sale flyer. Audio and Video System Design is a delicate balance between art and science. Where audio is concerned if a person designing the system primarily has experience mixing (the artistic side) the potential exists to overlook the critical elements of science. If the system design is based only on science the result has the potential to end up with another set of challenges!
Once your plan is in place, it’s time to start shopping for a professional person or company to take your project to the next level. Before you call in a professional A/V company you’ll need to get an idea of what kind of budget you have.
Determining a budget often puts many in a precarious situation as they don’t have any idea of what the A/V equipment costs much less what’s involved in installing it. Too often a House of Worship reviews the latest sales catalog or the prices listed on a retailer’s website to derive their budget only to be stunned speechless when the professional A/V Company gives them an installed price. One of the best places to start is to ask another house of worship, similar in size to yours, if they would mind sharing their experience with you. If their expenditure doesn’t seem realistic for your situation you can hire a professional A/V consultant or integrator/contractor to help you.
Although the tendency for many houses of worship is to rely on the in-house audio/video person; hiring a professional, even if it’s just to get their opinion, is a good idea. As previously stated relying 100% on your in-house audio people is fine if they’ve got a respectable amount of house of worship system design and installation experience. If your people do not fall in this category give them the opportunity to participate in your meetings with the A/V Company. You’ll be giving them an opportunity to learn a great deal and still feel like they’re part of the process.
Let the professional you hire know “up-front” you’re hiring them to assist you with budgeting and are not ready to make a purchase. Be clear in communicating your immediate and long-term A/V system’s objective. No matter how much time you’ve spent putting a plan together the professional will have questions you’ve not considered. In reality there is no way to get an accurate budget until you design the system. Unless you’re prepared to purchase a “complete system design” from the company or individual you’ve hired do not expect one. At this point you’ve only hired them for basic guidance, information, and maybe a respectable estimate.
When choosing a professional A/V company you’re looking for a long-term business relationship, do some homework before you start. Ask other houses of worship what company they use or if they can recommend someone to you. Get several suggestions too. Interview these companies by phone or in person; don’t hesitate to stop by their office if it’s convenient. Treat this like a job interview. What industry certification classes are the A/V Company’s employees attending; NSCA and INFOCOMM? How many of them have completed the courses? What about Rigging Certifications? Do they have a valid Contractors License? Do they carry public liability insurance? What is their area of expertise? How many houses of worship do they design and/or install per year? Who were they, what was the average membership size, how complex was the A/V system installed, and what was the average price of the installation? Do they offer service contracts? What happens if you need them at 11:30 pm on Christmas Eve? Don’t hesitate to visit one of their house of worship installations during a service. You should feel comfortable when communicating with any A/V company and they should be able to answer all your questions with out talking down to you. Trust is paramount to this business relationship.
When you’re ready to purchase there are several approaches you can choose. One option is to call in a consultant who will take your plan and design your system for a price. When you’re ready to purchase the system, if choose to continue with the consultant, they will bid the project out to a group of contractors. If the consultant over-sees the project they’re generally responsible for the final outcome of the system. Make sure that is the case before you hire them. If you choose this bidding process, discuss allowable “change orders” up front. Some times the lowest bid doesn’t end up most cost effective solution.
Another option is to call in one or more A/V companies to propose a system design and installation for you. With either of these options it is generally possible to purchase the system design then purchase the system installation at a later date. Many design build companies may charge you to design the system and agree to subtract the price of the design as long as you purchase the system from their company within a specific time period. The advantage to purchasing the system from the designing company is they’re the bottom line after it’s installed. If you elect to purchase the design from one company and the system from another the potential exists should problems arise, that they’ll blame each other for the problem.
If you’re fortunate enough to get a system design from any company without paying for it, it’s because they trust you. Sadly, all too often a house of worship takes this design and starts shopping it around the internet or latest sale flyer then try to install the system themselves. It would be wise to consider the ethical implications before taking such actions.
What happens if you do not feel you can afford the system you’ve been proposed? If you performed the budgeting phase of the project correctly the likelihood of this issue is reduced. If this situation does occur, did you communicate your objective and budget clearly? Work with the chosen A/V Company to find a solution. Do they have used or refurbished products which may have been taken out of a previous job? How about a phased or scheduled installation? Single out your immediate needs and address only those? What about leasing options?
All companies who want to stay in business have to make a profit. If you’ve found a great A/V company you want them to receive a “fair” price for their endeavors. After all you want them to be around to service your system after it’s installed.
An Audio Video System upgrade or renovation is really just a process and like any process; you take it one step at a time. The choices made throughout this process definitely influence the outcome. Give the Audio Video System its proper place in the over-all scheme of things, develop a great plan by involving all the right people, and select an A/V company or consultant you trust, bring them in early on if needed, and pay them a fair price and you’ll be glad you did. Who knows you might get it right the first time!