Not Just Gear, the RIGHT Gear!

by Matt Scott

It's not just the gear that matters, it's the right gear. This is one of the largest obstacles that must be overcome throughout the course of any installation, but especially in the house of worship market. More often then not, when I'm working with the HOW market, this is the biggest thing that I fight... well that and the budget!

Too often, we as integrators (or ESCs, love ya CEDIA) come up against volunteer audio/video technicians when we are specifying a project where the volunteer has become stuck on a particular model of microphone (feel free to insert any other type of gear here) for no other reason then they are convinced that this X model of microphone is the best. Now, there is nothing wrong with liking a particular brand or model of gear. We all have our favorites, I have mine and I know you have yours, but a favorite piece of gear should only be specified if it is the RIGHT piece of gear.

I was recently consulting with a ministry on an upgrade to their front of house system and got into a major discussion regarding vocal microphones. The head of the audio department, a volunteer, was adamant about using a $500+ vocal microphone for their lead and backup vocalists. Wonderful! I'd love to see background vocals with some very nice mics. It would sound great. Unfortunately, their budget couldn't support a handful of these mics. That's four mics at $500 — that's over $2,000 in mics. That might not sound like a lot... but on a smaller project like this one, where we're working with a 10K budget point, it's a pretty steep price. So being the helpful integrator I try oh so hard to be, I suggested supplementing these wonderful but expensive microphones with the workhorse that is a Shure SM58! Remember when I told you I had a favorite...

Now I've been specifying and recommending 58s as long as I can remember, they are rock solid, sound great, decently priced and just a great all around mic. What surprised me was the response of the church's audio technician: "That mic is garbage... nobody uses that mic anymore! I don't want that garbage on my stage!"

This is something that really bothers me. I proceeded to attempt to educate my client (If you haven't yet learned that this is the biggest aspect of your job as an integrator, guess what, it is!) on the power and quality of this mic and the benefits of using this mic over the one that the church's audio tech had wanted. So I started the process of attempting to educate and explain that the mic I specified had two outstanding qualities that really mattered in the project. First, it's a great mic; and second, it's going to cost $400 versus $2,000 to outfit the background vocals! The client came back with the same argument. "I don't like that mic, I want the good mics.

So we disagree. He wants some really nice mics that will put him over their budget, I want to spec a mic that will work just fine and keep them UNDER budget! What's an integrator to do? Here is where you need to take a step back and get back to the basic principles of being an integrator and your purpose in this project. You are the professional. You've been brought in to specify the proper mix of equipment for that project. Thats the easy part.

Here's the hard part: You've got to tell the client when they can't have what they want and why! Now let me preface why in this situation I'm going against the client's wishes. It's not just about the gear, It's about the right gear. There are a few reasons I wasn't comfortable spec'ing the $500 mics for their background vocals:

1.) The client hadn't ever used or demo'd this mic (again it is a very good mic).
2.) The budget doesn't support $2K of mics for a background vocals.
3.) The client's system will not be able to properly display the difference between the $500 mic and the 58s I was recommending.
4.) The savings between the two mic choices could be put into other components that will allow the system to become a much better system.

I was able to finally convince the client that the additional $1,600 was better used in other aspects of the project opposed to putting it into the background vocal mics. In the long run, the client appreciated the manner in which I explained why I didn't recommend the microphone that they had initially asked for. It was a situation where they became fixated on that one piece of gear and were unable to see the bigger picture of how that would impact their upgrade and the overall function of their system.

The bottom line is that there comes a time when we as integrators need to get past the gear. Because it's not just about the gear... it's about the RIGHT gear. The right gear for every project. It's what we as integrators need to be more conscientious to do with every client! We need to remember that even though we have all have our favorite brands and pieces of gear, but that doesn't mean we should be specifying them unless they are the right pieces of gear! Let's make this New Year's Resolution to "Spec the Right Gear!"