One of my biggest frustrations in life is when I buy something, and then a year or 2 later, it has to be replaced because it’s no longer working, or because it doesn’t meet my current needs.
And when I work with people and their lighting, I often see the same thing.
In venues, churches, production companies and bands, I see this situation play out all the time.
Lights or a console were bought at some point, based on limited research of the “suggestion” of a salesperson or friend, and they either didn’t meet the needs of the user from day 1, or they quickly became outdated.
And that’s a waste of money!
As you buy lights, my biggest goal is that you are able to use that light or console for as long as possible! I hate it when gear sits in a corner, unused! In this article, I’m going to share with you my top tips for choosing the right gear for your needs today and also for the future.
And oh! by the way – this isn’t just for lights – it totally applies to audio gear and video gear as well…
How Do I Buy Lights for Both Today and Tomorrow?
The situation probably goes something like this.
Some budget is available, and you need to buy some new lights. If you’re like most folks working with lighting, this isn’t something that happens every day, so you need to choose well because you’re going to need these lights to perform well today as well as years into the future.
Ideally, you’ll either keep these lights in service for as long as possible, OR, you’ll have a plan to sell them off in a few years – before they lose all their value, and the sale can help fund newer lights at that point.
But let’s pretend there’s no possibility of selling them off in a few years – you’re stuck with these lights, forever. (enter creepy laugh here!)
Light “A” has the output and feature set that you need from a light today. Light “B” has a few more features and is a little brighter, but also costs a little more.
Which one do you choose?
Step 1: Forecast Where You Are Going to Be
If you’ve been with your current organization (band, church, DJ service, production company, etc) for a while, this is probably an easy exercise. You likely have a good idea whether you’ll be growing in your needs, or whether your lighting needs will stay the same or similar over the next 5-10 years.
Are you planning to do larger productions as time continues on? Are you planning on moving into a larger space, or doing larger shows over time? Or do you think you’ll stay doing the same type of shows for years to come?
This also brings up another interesting point – renting.
If you’re only going to use a large amount of lighting every once in a while, it may make more sense to rent. Sure, you don’t get to actually “own” anything, but you also don’t have to fix it or deal with the manufacturer if it breaks (*as long as you are treating the equipment well).
While it takes more than a few words to analyze whether renting makes sense, you may want to look at it if you don’t need all of your lighting “all the time”. Developing a relationship with a local lighting vendor generally will also help you bring down the cost of renting, as you show them that you are a good customer who takes care of their stuff and returns it on time.
Let’s look at an example of something fairly simple – an LED par light.
Today, you need an LED par that is bright enough to cut through your stage wash of some fairly dim, aging conventional lights to act as backlight. You decide on a LED par unit that has about 60w of LED’s – plenty bright for today.
In 2 years, you upgrade your frontlight for your new cameras, and now your stage is brighter. These lights now don’t cut through as backlights, so you move them to lighting some darker areas of your set or walls.
Then, 3 years later you upgrade your “backdrop” to an LED wall, and use these lights to color the walls or ceiling, or move them to another space in your venue. They stay there for the next 5 years, until the power supplies give out.
See what I did there? I just took some lights that were going to be “out of use” in 2 years and extended their life for as long as they are in working order.
Now, that was simply an illustration, but it’s representative of what I see out in the real world.
When you’re buying new lights, your plan for what the old lights do (and what the new lights will do down the road) is actually really important and can save you a TON of money.
Step 2: Compare Options and Decide on a few “Good Fits”
Once you do have an idea of a light that you want to buy, go shop it out. Call your local dealer, or shop online to find the best prices.
But don’t stop there! Just because you have 1 type of light in mind doesn’t mean that particular light is the only one that will suit your needs. It’s important to identify a few “good fits” that will suit your needs well into the future.
Look at multiple brands, and if you’re going to be buying a decent amount, don’t be afraid to ask a dealer for demos.
Step 3: Price it Out and Purchase
Talk to a few dealers of the different brands and see what makes the most sense to you. Buying a “nicer brand” light generally means it will last longer and be more repairable, but that’s not always the case, especially between brands that are similar.
For more information on this, read “What Lights Should I Buy?”.
Step 4: Choose a Great Console and Program Well
Once you’ve bought new lights, the last step to getting the most out of your money is to have a great console and to program well.
A full rig of expensive lights doing very simple things is generally not that impressive. But a smaller rig, well controlled and programmed, can make a HUGE impact in your show or service. That’s why I am a huge proponent of education, and believe that one of your best investments is in yourself and your lighting knowledge!
I truly hope that this article has helped you to imagine how you can use both the lights you currently have and new lights in multiple ways. That way, you can get the most value possible out of the lights that you buy!
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