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Starting from Scratch

February 7, 2012

(This article also appears on WHMG.TV under the heading of Technology That Inspires (http://www.whmg.tv/inspirational/technology-that-inspires-starting-from-scratch-%E2%80%93-part-i)

Starting from Scratch – Part I

There are many ways to improve upon an existing sound system in a church and many places to find great information on how to do those improvements but what if you are just starting out? There are new ministries forming all the time, many renting spaces without sound systems or locations where the owner would rather the tenants not touch the installed system. These new ministries often rely on untrained, volunteer staff to run the audio for the day’s events and it is often rare to find knowledgeable Audio/Visual professionals to who you can get advice on an ongoing basis. This means you have to think the audio system through to cover Portability, Simple Setup,  Ease of Use.

Portability
There are many Portable Sound Systems available for purchase. A quick search on Portable PA Systems on the B&H Superstore Website** reveals 367 options and not all of those options will work for your location. How much space will you need to fill with the amplified sound? It will take a different setup to send sound to a rented warehouse than a basement of a church. Compare http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/755478-REG/Alesis_TRANSACTIVE_MX_TransActive_MX_PA_System.html to this system http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/746578-REG/Nady_ACCESS_PSS_150_Access_PSS_150_Portable_Stereo.html. The Alesis system would be easily portable but wouldn’t project well in a warehouse space while the Nady system might be harder to move around.
Do you need to transport the equipment from an offsite location each week or will you be able to lock the equipment in a closet when not in use. If the former then amount of space in your vehicle will help to dictate how much equipment you will be able to purchase. Two speakers, cables, a mixer, microphones and cables take up a lot of space if you have then encased correctly for constant travel. If you are able to lock them up within the location you are renting you will find that you can usually forgo heavy duty cases and save space with smaller carrying equipment.

Simple Setup
I admit that I love to wire up a sound system. Since I was a kid I have loved wiring and configurations and unboxing equipment for installation but even I wouldn’t make things harder than they should be. How complicated of a system do you need for your worship service? How many inputs and outputs are required?
When I design or configure a system I am not doing it with the expectation that someone like myself will be doing it weekly, I have to design it as if a 17 year old youth in the church will have to set it up and run it each week. That means everything clearly labeled, limited outboard gear, a mixer with effects and compression onboard (as much as possible), and powered speakers. Simple is usually better even with the sacrifices that may crop up from time to time.

Ease of Use
Digital mixers are the future and there is a lot to love about them but analog mixers still have their place. The learning curve of a digital mixer is huge especially since many manufactures use their own terminology and there is no standard for how settings are accessed or configured. With a consistent staff a digital mixer can level the playing field (somewhat, let’s not get carried away) between your most knowledgeable and lest knowledgeable team members but with a portable system and analog board will minimize the number of things that can go wrong during setup. My father (a mechanic) never liked the move from manual windows to power windows on cars. He would always say, “What would you do when your window is down in a storm and you have no power to the car?” Now imagine that someone accidentally changes the routing configuration of the mixer right before the start of service? On an analog board that might just mean you have to move a cable on the back, on a digital board it means going into the configuration and hopefully finding the right setup. And if you think it hasn’t happened before you’d be wrong.

Those are just a few areas to consider when you or your church is considering a new system. You will notice that I didn’t mention budget at all, that is because I covered that in a previous article –  2012 Budget. If you go cheap with your sound system when starting out you will only pay a greater price down the road when you hope to install improvements. You will pay now or pay later. Even when renting your location your first thought shouldn’t be to save as much as you can by cutting corners.

Before I forget, with any Audio/Visual planning I suggest you find someone knowledgeable AND trustworthy to speak to about your entire church project. Often time I see that churches and businesses have a person that is trustworthy but not knowledgeable about A/V equipment and installation and on the toughest things for humans to admit is that they don’t know something. Find someone who knows, has the Christians spirit and can help move your church to the next level.

** (Sidenote: I do most of my A/V equipment purchases through B&H – http://bhphotovideo.com – They have a huge selection, you can call them to get a live person to speak to, their people are very knowledgeable and their 3 days shipping usually makes it to my home state (MD) within a day at a reasonable cost. I support local stores in Maryland for some purchases but B&H is my go to supplier)

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