If any phrase can strike fear into the hearts of tech team members, it is the dreaded term, “Easter production time.” Well, it is that time of year again when churches everywhere transform themselves into Broadway stages replete with the accompanying tech riders that include a minimum of thirty-two wireless mic systems, all to be used simultaneously. Of course, the usual church mic locker only contains one ancient wireless mic donated by the cast from the I Love Lucy show. Short of a loaves and fish miracle, the only solution is to outsource for extra units and maximize the available inventory.
This year Easter falls on April 15, creating a day full of joy (Resurrection) and misery (tax time). Since every denomination observes the same date for the holiday, the demand for available wireless rental systems rises dramatically while the supply pool remains constant. The inevitable result is an increase in rental rates and a scramble for the available units. Therefore, the first piece of advice is to reserve the needed systems as soon as possible. The methodology for ascertaining the number of systems needed is to read the production notes and finalize the maximum number of speaking (or singing) characters in one scene. That number less any currently available systems becomes the number of rental mics necessary for the production. Actors can, with the assistance of tech personnel, trade off bodypacks and mics between scenes. Practicing the actual handoffs is time consuming, but doing so will ensure the transitions flow smoothly on opening night. Procrastination is an expensive vice in rental world, so determine your needs now and arrange to rent the mics from a reliable source.
Determining what constitutes a reliable vendor is easy: a company that will promptly provide fully operational units and explain the system’s operation. Finding such a company is not so easy. Certain vendors, such as Systems Wireless ASAP, at (800) 542-3332, have built their entire business on such principles.
Unfortunately, other companies have not yet learned to conduct themselves as professionally. To avoid such issues, ask other churches nearby what sources they have found to be reliable and don’t succumb to the temptation to go with the lowest price. Price is the second area of advice. Specifically, the sweetness of a low price quickly turns bitter when the service provided matches the position of the low bidder. Seasonal vendors lack the expertise to guarantee a functional system when multiple units are used simultaneously in a crowded RF environment. If you are forced to use a second-tier supplier, insist the units arrive in time for a thorough on-site evaluation. Also, be certain to try the system at the same time of day the performance will occur, because there might be an interference-prone device nearby that only manifests itself between 11:00 AM and Noon on Sunday.
Rental pricing for professional caliber wireless systems can range from $100.00-$300.00 per unit per day, with weekly rates typically three times the day rate. Seeing these numbers, some church members may wish to purchase wireless systems instead of renting them at these “exorbitant” rates. Two words of caution here: cost and value. The cost of a professional unit is about $2500.00 and the common rule is to charge 10% of the unit’s cost as a daily rental rate. Value is the ability of the professional system to perform in a variety of environments without failure. While wireless systems may be purchased for $300.00, these systems are not professional units to be compared to the rental systems found in a sound company’s rack. The inexpensive units may not work in a specific location and, if their purchase is directed, then they must be tested in the environment well in advance of the actual production.
Ongoing expense is a hallmark of wireless mics. Batteries must be constantly replaced, spare mic elements must be available, and the RF sections need to be brought into alignment once a year. In light of this, a church that only needs wireless units once a year for a large production would be wise to rent the units when necessary. On the other hand, a church with a large drama department may be better steward by purchasing several professional systems and maintaining their performance themselves.
Finally, the last word of advice is maximizing. It is better to rent three excellent systems and improvise their use than to rent six mediocre units and be burdened with consistently lackluster performance. Available lapel mic elements can be made into useable headset systems by taking a coat hanger and bending it into the shape of a headset boom mic and attaching the lapel mic to the boom with tape. Wired condenser mics can be placed in scenery to pick up performers that have no wireless on them. Actors can also be trained to project their voice, as was the practice for thousands of years, eliminating the need for any microphone.
Easter does not have to be a time of wireless worries—with some preplanning, proper stewardship, and maximizing of available resources. When the expensive wireless rental mic does stop working during the climactic scene, just remember, He is risen!