Today’s Houses of
Worship are embracing music – and serious music programs – like never before.
This may sound like we’re stating the obvious, because, of course, pipe organs,
choirs and classical music were literally developed and thrived under the
guidance of the church. None of that is going anywhere. But, it is the
popularity of the contemporary music scene within the church environment that
has changed the way houses of worship spend their dollars. Building vibrant and
successful contemporary music programs is where they tend to focus their
efforts because the payoff is often new members (especially younger families
and young people). So, building a serious music program is a priority for any
church that wants to grow and remain relevant. Now, more than ever

Wealthy, so called “Mega
Churches” aside, one of the most difficult, and surprising, challenges to
conquer for small and mid-sized churches is determining the appropriate technology
and professional gear needed to insure a positive listening experience for the
Making the wrong choices can be a serious – and costly –
problem. Churchgoers – like everyone – are savvy audiences. A flawed sound system
(or a poor operator of a good sound system) can ruin the worship experience.
We’re all used to feedback-free presentations. We’re not tolerant of muffled
sound. We expect the volume and sound balance to be appropriate for the venues
where we gather.

There’s a lot to think
about, and much of it is ignored, because, in many cases, a church’s music
program expands – and audio purchases are made – at the same rate of growth as
its congregation. So, initially, many of these decisions are made by volunteers,
amateur music lovers or even well-meaning choir directors (all of whom may have
many talents, but are not necessarily well-trained when it comes to designing
and installing live sound and live sound recording systems). So, the results
can be disappointing. And that’s a shame, because small and mid-sized churches
have limited funds to spend. Poor equipment choices, shoddy installation,
attempting to retrofit an older system into a new space, etc. can prove costly
for a growing church and the decisions can have a lasting financial and
creative impact.

“I’ve seen
churches buy a wide range of different live sound and recording equipment for
different sanctuaries and presentation venues as they grow in size and scope.”
Says Corey Kirkendoll of 5K Technical Services in the Dallas area. He and his
staff have learned a lot about the struggles of small and mid-sized churches as
they design building connectivity systems for them. “They just can’t bear to
get rid of an older mixing board, for example, even when it doesn’t work for
the room any more. Or, they don’t consider future growth when they purchase the
board in the first place. Imagine having volunteers trying to learn 3 or 4
different mixing consoles or audio recording software – all within the same church?
It just creates problems. And it costs too much. It diminishes the power of the
choices they’ve made.”

Kirkendoll also points out that sound and recording purchases should not be
made in a vacuum. These days, live sound and recording gear should be connected
via the same digital cables that a church’s VOiP and Internet systems are
utilizing. That offers any church a great deal of flexibility as growth
occurs. So, a thoughtful strategy can really make the difference.

Pro-audio retailer Mike
“Spunky” Brunone of Audio DAWg (also in Texas) agrees. “The smart way for a
church to select the right gear for now – and for the future – is to bring live
sound and recording experts to the table, along with the experts in
connectivity. These days, each piece of gear needs to talk to each other.” Many
churches are also embracing products such as FocusritePro’s RedNet® line of Dante® interfaces that provide an audio-over-IP solution and a
scalable, modular audio system. Again, the goal is flexibility and easy connectivity.

But, there’s another
step that’s often overlooked: training. According to Brunone, “Churches often fail to build product training into the
plan, so they end up with incredible, professional sound systems but no one who
is qualified to operate them! Whether that person is a volunteer, a paid member
of a music program or an outside pro, it’s critical that training and
maintenance is built into the budget. Otherwise, there can be a lot of

Spending dollars wisely
is always a top concern. Tight budgets, and the popularity of
contemporary church music, has, sadly (for lovers of classical worship music)
means that some churches are simply no longer interested in maintaining an
authentic traditional music program – or even a real pipe organ with real
pipes, for that matter. Those that do (we applaud you!), recognize that, while
maintaining a pipe organ can be expensive, it also provides a truly
unmatched, rich worship experience.

For those seeking a
reliable – and impressive – solution that keeps tradition alive, a virtual
experience is available. Pipe organists who are willing to consider a virtual
pipe organ experience will find that it can be just as rich and satisfying.
Some would even say more so, because a virtual pipe
organ offers Pipe Organ Sample Sets from around the world. So
now, even a small sanctuary can feature a Notre Dame Cavaille Coll
French organ or a Father Willis Hereford Cathedral English organ at a touch of
a button! Plus, virtual pipe organs feature easy expandability
at an affordable price.

This solution can be
elegant visually, as well. Virtual pipe organ software from companies like
Hauptwerk are now being paired with gorgeous, traditional pipe organ consoles,
real wood key manuals and pedals, touch screens and tabs or draw
knobs. Music from a virtual pipe organ includes its own compliment of
speakers and it can be perfectly balanced through the house sound
system that is also utilized for contemporary services, sermons, etc.. So,
it’s a House of Worship trifecta – for those with an open mind.

Says Brunone, “Church
music programs are growing. Fast. But, without a plan, and some innovation, it
can be a bumpy path.”


For retailers selling goods to schools,
universities, counties, cities and states, there have always been hoops to jump
through when it comes to selling to these entities. One of the biggest
challenges has been getting on individual “bid lists”. Otherwise, as a
retailer, there is literally no chance to participate in purchasing
opportunities and Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) issued by these institutions.
Of course, there are a lot of schools, universities, counties, cities and
states to connect to! Imagine the time and manpower involved for retailers who
wish to, for example, be listed on each bid list across a state the size of
Texas or California! It’s a very tedious process (and is probably virtually
impossible to achieve)!

Of course, in most cases these entities are
actually required to find the lowest possible prices for the
goods they purchase. And, since they also need to utilize vendors that are on
their bid lists (or even those that can provide minority-owned or women-owned
certifications, they’ve sometimes been forced to select and buy from a vendor
that isn’t really all that well-suited to their needs.

Another challenge is quality, knowledge and
experience. For example, just because a vendor can provide the lowest price on
a much-needed piece of music software or a mixing board to record the school
band doesn’t mean that this same company has the knowledge or
expertise to provide accurate advice before the sale – or the
capability to install an item properly after the sale.

In short, there’s more to a smart purchase than
low pricing. And the traditional bid list/RFP process just doesn’t address
that challenge effectively. But, make no mistake, competitive pricing

That’s where Purchasing Cooperatives – also
known as “Co-ops” – come in. The concept isn’t brand new; these modern,
web-based organizations are essentially modeled, to some degree, after the old
“farm co-ops”. The goal is the same: to increase buying power and access to
quality and low pricing for Co-op members – many of whom will be purchasing key
items quite regularly. Co-ops are not yet widely utilized in all 50 states, but
their popularity is growing. And, Co-ops have truly become the norm among
institutions in key (and very powerful) purchasing states such as Texas.

Thus, entities are addressing the delays,
hiccups and procurement red tape of the past by signing on to Co-ops such as
BuyBoard (a prominent co-op that enjoys a big market share in Texas and also
services other states.). BuyBoard (and competing Co-ops) do serve as
middle-men between buyers and sellers. And that can be a very good thing. The
good news, is that it doesn’t mean that the professional relationships between
buyer and seller are compromised. Co-ops do take a small percentage of
each transaction from the seller. But, they also provide added value to buyers
by offering an easily accessible list of competitively procured product
resources ranging from audio recording gear to lunch tables – and everything in
between. So, essentially, Co-ops can be convenient “one-stop shops” for
government organizations and educational institutions.

Of course, both purchasers and retailers must
rethink the way they work through the buying/selling process. They do need to
learn a host of new procedures and be willing to embrace procurement
adjustments if they want to work with a Co-op.

For schools and local/state government
staff, they may be restricted to selecting a supplier that
participates in a Co-op. So, they may be unable to buy from a long-standing
preferred retailer that doesn’t belong to a Co-op. But, on the upside, the
lengthy and exhausting RFP process can become a non-issue (nice time
saver!), since Co-ops promise to provide product discounts and insure highly
competitive pricing to their buying customers. So, purchasing from Co-op
awarded suppliers offers institutional buyers easy access to a wide array of competitively
procured suppliers, as well as reducing time and headaches. Sure, change isn’t
easy. But sometimes it is actually an improvement.

For retailers, the time involved in uploading
their (sometimes massive) list of products onto Co-op website platforms can be
both challenging and time-consuming. And vendors should pay close attention to
membership deadlines and details so they don’t miss an opportunity. Frankly, if
a supplier decides not to list with a Co-op, they may find
that they are unable to work with longstanding school and government clients.
So the effort is, generally, well worth it!

Despite the pros and cons of trying anything
new, Purchasing Cooperatives like BuyBoard and other Co-ops remain the trend in
procurement and there’s no indication of that changing in the near future. In
many ways, buying through a Co-op makes life much easier for procurement
professionals. Co-ops offer a web-based interface through which orders may be
placed – for any and all participating suppliers. And being a Co-op member
certainly doesn’t preclude buyers from being able to take advantage of
manufacturer limited time deals, since they’re still able to maintain a direct,
personal relationship with their favorite Co-op vendors.

Once a retailer has successfully navigated the
proposal process and been awarded a contract by a Co-op, they are likely to
gain new clients that may have been difficult to reach previously. Additional
exposure is never a bad thing. And Co-ops offer a far-reaching, new outlet for
selling their goods!

Nothing’s perfect. But the Co-op concept is
really gaining traction. More and more institutions – in more states – are
adopting and working with Purchasing Cooperatives. So, it does look as though
they are here to stay. And that can be a good thing for all involved.