When it comes to the upkeep of sound and A/V systems, I suspect that we often confuse or misuse the terms maintenance, service, repair, replacement and other related words. Here are a few of my definitions:
Maintenance—General care and cleaning done at regular intervals that helps equipment and systems last longer and continue performing at their best;
Service—More comprehensive than maintenance, this is usually performed by a trained professional with the purpose of addressing minor performance issues before they become worse;
Repair—Always done by a trained professional who’s purpose is to fix a specific problem that is severely compromising equipment performance or halting it all together;
Replacement—Usually/always done by a trained professional when there is an equipment problem too tough or expensive to solve, making it necessary to replace a defective unit with a new or refurbished substitute.
All of these aspects are important and necessary to keep your system performing optimally. But the most significant point is to always be aware that this “care and feeding” must be done regularly, with the associated costs included in your annual systems budget.
At some churches, I’ve seen figures of as much as 10 percent per year of the total system cost (when it was purchased) allocated for equipment upkeep. During the first two to three years of the life of a system, 10 percent is probably too much. But then again, it might be a bit too low as the system approaches the end of its usefulness.
This figure should include the costs of contracting professional assistance, such as having your sound system contractor come by twice a year to check things over and address any problems. But note that far more of it is “standard clean-up and awareness” activity, so with a bit of time and effort, the average sound operator at a church should be able to do much of the work themselves.
Every situation is different; again, just remember to always include an realistic amount in the budget to handle anything within reason that might come up.
Many parts of an audio system actually have relatively short life expectancies (less than three years). This is simply inevitable, regardless of your level of care. A good example is microphone cables, which take plenty of abuse (bending, twisting, being stepped on repeatedly), and thus they can become unusable fairly quickly.