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Defining Costs Of A New Church System With Logic & Simple Math

The easier it is to understand the cost subject, the sooner everyone will be singing off the same page.

By Tom Walter February 22, 2012

An Apple iPod is priced at less than $100 for a basic model. The “name brand table radio” that some are convinced provides provides concert hall sound quality is priced at $350 and up. A simple portable CD player with headphones is priced at $20 and up.

What do all of these have in common besides being mass-produced consumer audio devices. By and large, each is only used by one listener at a time.

Now, what if I quoted a price of $56,000 on a new sound system for an 800-seat church? “Yikes!” is perhaps the most likely reply, followed by “Oh my goodness, that’s triple the amount we have in the budget! It’s time to go down to the local music store and see what we can get on the cheap, and/or shop around for equipment deals online, and, well, we can get together a crew of volunteers to install all of this on a Saturday…”

Sound familiar?

But what if I do some simple math showing that this price breaks down to just $70 per seat (listener)? It does—divide 800 into $56,000.

The issue that seems to come above most others when talking about a new sound system for a church: how much money will be needed to get the job done? We need to get our heads around this issue by understanding it in context.

Defining It
In any correctly executed sound system design, four key pillars are intertwined, and if any of these four are not evenly matched, the structure is fundamentally flawed and won’t stand the test of time.

The four key pillars:

  • Function
  • Coverage
  • Level/Volume
  • Cost
  • In the real world, we understand that the fourth pillar—cost—will almost always take a leading position in the discussion, no matter what any of us say. This makes it imperative to investigate a way of developing a sound system budget for your church that will bring logic to the process of attaining the first three pillars to the highest degree possible.

    We start with three broad categories of worship styles that require sound systems:

    Traditional services—Predominantly spoken word, with some non-electronic music, i.e., acoustic piano, solo vocals, choir.

    Contemporary services—Spoken word, perhaps with more “dynamic, inspirational” speaking as well, drama/theatrical performance, and a much heavier emphasis on electronic and acoustic music.

    Transitional services—As the name implies, loosely a combination of the first two styles.

    Within these broad categories, the worship style drives sound system function and levels, while the worship space (the room’s size, space and configuration) drives coverage, as well as levels. And they all influence cost.

    It’s also vital to understand that experienced professional sound designers and contractors bring many valuable assets to the table, among them:

  • Numerous successful projects that can be referenced;
  • Trade resources;
  • Training;
  • Service;
  • Commissioning;
  • The knowledge base of best industry practices.
  • Don’t let the dark specters of “mark-up” and “profit” cloud judgment—any project over $10,000 is serious enough to warrant professional advice and execution. These folks can be of true help in working out a cost structure that attains the first three pillars to your specific needs.

    For any new system design, installation, programming, instruction and equipment that is supplied by a qualified consultant and contractor, we will receive a total cost estimate. Returning to my earlier example for an 800-seat worship space hosting traditional services, a new system cost of $56,000 (thus a cost-per-seat of $70) is completely realistic to achieve expectations.

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