Production Gear: Rent or Buy?
We get asked about the gear we use for our productions and service events and this seems an appropriate time to discuss how much equipment that we actually rent or lease. I presented this idea soon after I started working at COTM not knowing exactly what their reaction would be, but it was agreed that this presented a possible solution that allowed us to branch out and try some different things without the church being on the hook for a huge cash outlay.
As I noted in a previous blog, my experience prior to taking this position was through many years of touring where renting was commonplace and in most situations, the only way to get the job done. It seems to make the most practical sense from the fiscal and cash-flow side of a church. Whether you are a small operation or a big one, the same financial responsibility and stewardship is a common denominator—we all still have to spend money in a practical manner that can work within a budget.
Over time, we have discovered what items it made sense to own vs. rent. By renting for awhile, you are able to try out different gear in your particular setting—the piece of gear you thought would change your life may not be as cool as you thought once you immerse it into your current setup.
LIGHTING For our moving lights, with the exception of a handful of fixtures, we rent everything. We’ve used several different vendors over the years depending on what we needed and who had the inventory at the time but as of our most recent set change we were able to consolidate our lighting rental down to one local vendor, Integrity Lighting. These guys not only have a huge inventory of lighting but have a large selection of LED products that have come in really handy in our various lighting and scenic designs. Using a local vendor is a major plus as well in that they can provide assistance with skilled maintenance for the equipment and added labor when our gear and design needs change.
In the conventional lighting world, we own and maintain a fairly large inventory of conventional instruments including Source4 pars, Strand SL lekos (ranging from 10º to 50º), an assortment of 1K and 2K Fresnels, and the normal array of dimmers, cabling, and utility items you would expect.
VIDEO We made a decision several years ago to upgrade our camera package as our current cameras had served the ministry well but had reached the end of their lifespan. I reached out to a longtime touring associate, Evan French with Big Picture Productions, for a solution. We pulled in one of their 3-camera fly-pack systems using Hitachi Standard-Definition cameras with an EchoLab switcher and the typical but simple complement of outboard gear to get us going. We still tapped into our existing projectors and screens as they were a built-in part of the stage at that time.
Over time, we figured out the best way to implement this monthly rental and are still renting a video package from BPP consisting of (5) Hitachi SD cameras and a new Barco FSN-150 switcher. One of the reasons we have been able to stick with Standard Definition cameras is that during the recent remodel of our main auditorium, we made the jump to Barco I-6 LED walls instead of projection. Once we saw the incredible difference in the display quality, our SD cameras looked amazing. We do use one of our own P-2 HD cameras as a wide-shot, so it gives us a 6-camera shoot that serves our needs quite well. If interested, you can check out this link which goes a little more in depth of some the Barco gear we use.
By establishing a long-term monthly rental situation on these high dollar items, it allowed us to build up a fantastic control room with all the bells and whistles but we did it a little bit at a time over a couple of years, so again, this didn’t create a massive cash outlay that would cause any kind of a financial drain for the church.
AUDIO It’s safe to say that the audio equipment gets the heaviest usage at all of our facilities. This is one of those areas where owning vs. renting will in almost all cases prove to be more cost-effective to purchase rather than rent. It is very sensible to rent and hang a speaker system to help give you an idea of what you may want to purchase. Same with an audio console—if you’re thinking of a purchase or upgrade, rent something first and give it a test drive.
I already had a lot of experience using most large PA systems, so we didn’t necessarily have to rent something for our main auditorium prior to a purchase but in our secondary auditorium (built as the original auditorium on this campus), I rented a new small line-array that I had never used—this allowed me several months of trial and error based on our specific usage and need before we settled on what exactly we were going to purchase.
You can rent almost anything that’s out there, not just the main items like the lighting, video and audio I’ve mentioned above but you can rent stage sets, band risers, backdrops, curtains, carpeting, chandeliers, pipe and draping, wireless mics, ear monitor systems (great way to gear up for a large holiday event) etc, etc. The list is almost endless as to what vendors will rent to you and most of it comes with delivery and setup assistance included. It is rare that we’ve done an event in which there is not some level of rental involved—it has become something that we can budget for easily and it’s a huge plus that we are not left with a massive storage situation when the project is concluded.