Vital Church Sound System Maintenance Tips

by | Audio, Facilities, Production

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.

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 whose 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.

These Are Great, But There’s More

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. And the associated costs must be 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 a realistic amount in the budget to handle anything within reason that might come up.

Other Things to Note

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. They take plenty of abuse (bending, twisting, being stepped on repeatedly), and thus they can become unusable fairly quickly.

Other equipment that falls into the short life-span category can include microphones and wireless system transmitters (in both cases due to dropping, mishandling, sweaty hands, makeup, dust, dirt, etc.). Additionally, mic stands, monitor loudspeaker cables, CD/tape decks (especially compact cassette players, which generally aren’t manufactured to “professional” standards), along with others can have short life spans.

Learn from Others’ Experience

Back in my “Re’Generation” touring days, we had to send our Neumann KM84 mics in for service and/or repair at least once a year. This included replacing the outer metal shells, which regularly deteriorated due to sweat and handling. These are fine microphones and really enhanced our audio production, so the added effort and expense was worth it.

Recently at my church, I found some vintage AKG C451/CK1 mics that were not being used because they had become “noisy.” I tightened up the tiny screws around the capsule, and the problem was cured. (I had learned about these tiny screws when touring with “Truth,” since I used these same mics and had to tighten up those little screws every week to keep the mics working at their best. (By the way, this type of activity falls under the category of maintenance.)

And how many wireless system problems could be cured with routine service by a qualified RF bench technician? The point is to keep “care and feeding” of your system firmly in mind and devise common-sense strategies to stop problems before they start.

Good Stewardship Has Many Benefits

While we’ve established that some components have a relatively short life span, other components, with reasonable care, can be expected to last 7 to 10 years, especially with the performance of regular maintenance. If equipment has moving parts (such as knobs and faders), lubricate them – suggest a method or someone will go out and spray the entire board with WD-40.

If it has a cooling fan, clean out the filter by washing it in hot water and leaving it out in the open air for 24 hours to thoroughly dry. Whenever possible, carefully clean out the entire unit with a soft toothbrush and vacuum. 

When was the last time you went to your rack room and vacuumed out the dust in the racks and around the power amplifiers? When was the last time that you checked to make sure the fan was still operational in your system processors? Broken or failed fans are the number one cause of catastrophic failure on heat producing electronic devices.

Just remember to take your time and be cautious: if you really feel like you could be causing damage to a component, you likely are. And this is the time to seek the services of a professional. Better safe than sorry.

I wonder how much a large civil contractor plans to spend per year maintaining a new piece of multi-million dollar road construction equipment? Audio systems are often amazingly similar to a bulldozer!

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