The core purpose of a house of worship is to deliver a life-changing message that makes an impact in people’s lives. In many modern churches, communicating that message requires a powerful experience, and AV technology is a key part of that. However, no matter the size of the church, the technical director always seems to feel that if they just had a bit more budget, they could achieve everything they would like to accomplish. Of course, resources and technology are finite, and their job is to do the best they can with what they have. To better understand how churches can have the largest impact using the technology and budget they have available, I reached out to two experts in house of worship AV: Chris Pyron, Business Development Manager and Daryl Sutton, Senior Manager, Business Development, both part of the HARMAN Professional Solutions House of Worship team.
Chris started mixing audio in church when he was about 12 years old. Chris worked as an AV integrator for a number of years before becoming Technical Director for a large multi-site church. He served for nine years leading the audio, video and lighting as well as running Front of House for one of the church’s various satellite campuses. Chris joined HARMAN in 2016.
Daryl grew up in Branson, Missouri, a town famous for its live music productions. He got his start as a child entertainer, and learned how to create his own monitor mix when he was eight years old. Throughout high school, Daryl was very involved with his church’s youth group praise band and the youth tech team. His love for audio, video and lighting grew, and he eventually worked as Managing Director for a theatrical lighting integrator before joining HARMAN in 2001, supporting lighting solutions for Martin Lighting.
In this two-part series, I am speaking with Chris and Daryl about ways to use AV to make an impact in houses of worship. In this first interview, we examine how to maximize the effectiveness of what the church has available. In the next piece, we’ll turn to ways to get the best results possible when using volunteers.
[SKD]: One of the big responsibilities at churches in particular is to be good stewards of the money that parishioners have donated to their church and spend it in the right way. What are some ways that technical directors address that challenge in AV?
[CP]: Budget is always a huge consideration, whether it’s for the 50-member church that meets at the end of the two-lane dirt road or for one of the big-city megachurches. There’s never enough budget, it seems, to dedicate to worship tech to accomplish what they need to accomplish and what they want to achieve. One of the ways that technical directors have to look at that is, as they try to allocate the resources they do have available, how can they maximize the impact of those dollars spent.
[DS]: Some churches have small budgets and some don’t, and really at the end of the day the AV supports the vision of the church leadership. Every ministry is very uniquely called for a specific purpose and demographic, and sometimes that requires heavier technology that other times. You can’t even tell with size, because larger churches may have a bigger overall budget, but allocate their money elsewhere, whereas a smaller church may use AV as a big part of their overall vision in how they communicate their message. But no matter the size of the budget, ultimately it’s about achieving the biggest impact for the dollars spent. They need to find what is going to “move the ball forward” the farthest and for the longest period of time, until the next time they have more money in the budget for another technology upgrade.
[SKD]: Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Fear of choice is a real thing. There are so many things that can be upgraded. How do they know what they should upgrade first? How do they know what will make the most impact?
[DS]: The biggest thing to remember is that “more” or “new” isn’t necessarily better. You need to have a specific problem in mind that you’re trying to solve. Take lighting, for example. A church can go for sheer quantity and buy 10 cheap lighting pieces that may light things up, but won’t really be the right fixtures for the job, or they can spend the same amount of money on two or three higher-quality pieces that are still affordable, but really address the actual needs of what they’re trying to accomplish. You can do a lot of fancy things with lighting, but you need to address the fundamentals first. Then you can add more, but can ensure you’re adding the right pieces and have a goal in mind.
[CP]: For sound, it’s a similar concept. People go out and get the cheapest soundboard they can for their current channel count, and while it may do the job for now, if the church is growing at all, it won’t be long before you don’t have the channel count you need. If the church can wait a few months and gather just a few hundred more dollars, they can get something like the Soundcraft Si Impact, double the channel count and really maximize the impact of what they spend without a huge step up in the financial investment. And this is true whether you are talking about hundreds or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Getting new gear just for the sake of getting new gear isn’t being a good steward of your money. As Daryl said, you need the fundamentals first.
[SKD]: You both mentioned the importance of fundamentals. You’re talking about knowing how to properly use the gear you have. How does the impact of that understanding compare with the impact new gear has? When does getting new gear become worth it?
[DS]: New technology can have a huge impact on the worship experience, but technology is just a tool. Like any tool, it can only have an impact if it is the right technology for the job and it is being used correctly. For years, I’ve had conversations about churches who are wanting to make things “cool” and “better” by adding automated lighting. However, even what they currently owned and deployed wasn’t being deployed properly. So even if they spent money on new technology, they wouldn’t get the effect and impact they were going for. These churches will eventually get the new gear they’re wanting to buy, but if they learn and deploy some of the fundamentals, they can get the most out of their investment. We’ve recently been doing a training tour called the HARMAN Impact Worship Tour, and in it I teach some of those lighting fundamentals. I call it “Before the Wiggle,” and the idea is that before you start investing in moving lighting heads, which are really cool and can have a huge visual impact, you need to understand the basics of key lighting and how to help the people on stage to stand out visually. Then you can add the moving heads and really take things to the next level.
[CP]: I’ve seen the same issue on the audio side that Daryl mentioned with lighting. Technical directors sometimes see that the big church down the road has a particular console and they say, “I need that console or that brand of console because that will take my mixing to the next level.” The truth is that they’re missing the fundamentals: the foundation of the mix and how to get all of the different instruments into the frequency spectrum. One of the things I’ve been sharing on the Impact Worship Tour is how to take the instruments and carve out frequencies so everything has a place in the mix and you get rid of the clutter. If you make space in the mix so the important frequencies of each instrument are heard, the entire mix has more clarity and punch. That’s what we mean by the importance of understanding the fundamentals. With those skills, you should be able to sit in front of an analog board that’s 20 years old and get a great mix. Digital consoles are great and have a lot of amazing features, but without the fundamentals of how to create a mix, none of that matters.
I would like to offer a big thanks to Chris and Daryl for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to stay tuned to the HARMAN Professional Solutions Insights Blog for our follow-up talk with them on managing church tech volunteers.
Do you have insights into getting the most out of church AV technology? We’d love to hear them—share yours in the comments.