The Insider: Tim Vear
Shure & The Church

In preparing this issue, it was clear that the many of facts of Shure’s church audio history resided in one individual. The author of Shure’s popular “Audio Systems Guide for Houses of Worship”, continually revised and expanded since its formal debut in 1990, is Tim Vear, Senior Applications Engineer in the Applications Engineering Group.

Tim took us almost all the way back to the very beginning. We talked about how Shure grew with the modern church, the impact that the Church has had on Shure product development, and what makes you – our community of church audio specialists – so remarkable.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of how microphones evolved in house of worship applications?

A: Back in the early days, audio needs in houses of worship were pretty basic. There was a mic on the lectern for the pastor or minister, there may have been a mic at the altar and a mic where the Torah was read at a synagogue. Shure certainly enjoyed a huge presence in that capacity. The first Shure microphone for that application was the Model 51, which was a dynamic omni-directional microphone called the Sonodyne.

The Model 51 was ultimately replaced by the 55, which was introduced in the early 1950s. The 55 (recognized by many as the “Elvis” microphone) was a unidirectional type microphone. Eventually, by the 1960s, the Unidyne 545 took over. It continued to be the standard until the advent of miniature gooseneck microphones in the 1980s. The Shure Microflex line came out to meet the growing need for miniature goosenecks, which were preferred in houses of worship.

Q: What about miking the choir?

A: The choir mic didn’t become a fixture until the 1980s. Reason being until the late 1970s, the Christian church in this country was represented by the traditional liturgical churches – the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church and the Congregational Church. They had a rigidly defined service. Participation in the musical aspects of these things was limited to a choir of some dimension and an organist. Most of them used traditional types of music that were scored for traditional choirs and accompanied, at most, by an organist. The choirs were usually large enough and the churches designed well enough from an acoustic standpoint that the choir could be supported without the benefit of a PA system.

The concept of amplifying a choir really didn’t become a factor until the 1970s, when we began to deal with churches that were designed with different acoustic aims or perhaps no acoustic aims at all. The choir was no longer adequate to fill the worship space and that was compounded by the introduction of popular music styles into the non-traditional worship services. Now there was amplified music and the PA system became more of a big hi-fi system than a speech reinforcement system. The number of microphones needed multiplied. And that’s when things became more complex.

Q: This expansion of music in the worship service had an impact on product development. What can you tell us about wireless?

A: The earliest wireless systems – before we entered the fray – were cantankerous. You needed to have an RF person to get antennas set up and deal with interference issues. This was a daunting problem and the prices were high.

When we entered the wireless mic market, we had a 2-pronged approach: systems had to offer very high sound quality and simple, reliable operation. Everything has been increasingly geared toward that. The number of wireless systems in churches have grown by leaps and bounds. In the late 1980s, churches had a “wireless microphone”, which was the pastor’s microphone. As wireless mics were starting to be used by the praise team, the ability to coordinate a number of systems at an affordable price became an issue. Shure has provided solutions for some of the most convenient and reliable multi-system operations in the industry.

We try to make it easy for churches to expand. From a support standpoint, this is where our group (Applications Engineering) is really effective. Churches know that when the holidays come and they’re putting together a big production, they can call us and we’ll help them coordinate these systems. A lot of other manufacturers haven’t had the wherewithal to do that.

The hardest part for us as we bring out more affordable wireless is to keep people apprised of the limitations. That is, the more wireless systems you use simultaneously, the higher the performance level of the wireless system has to be. If you need one or two systems, anything will work. If you need to use 20 or 30 systems, you have to use the good stuff.

Q: And what is the genesis of personal monitors?

Contemporary music in the West has meant electrified music – it reflects what you see in contemporary culture. One aspect of bringing rock & roll into worship space is trying to keep volume levels under control. In an evolution that took place in popular music some years ago, the goal wasn’t so much to control volume but to let the musician hear what he was playing.

In a church setting, personal monitors help to control the overall volume and that has certainly accelerated Shure’s product offerings to serve the market. It’s technology that was borrowed from large touring sound operations. In-ears find themselves in places where there may be a congregation of just a few hundred people — because of the volume problem. And for portable churches, the things that transform a cafeteria into a church, (besides the chairs and some decorations) is the sound system. If you’ve got a praise band and 100 people coming in, you’re going to have sound problems. The acoustics are terrible and the monitor situation is even more of a problem. So in-ears are moving in that direction.

Q: How did you come to write Shure Audio Systems Guide for Houses of Worship?

A: I joined the Applications Engineering Group at Shure in 1986. Around that time, a number of NSCA (National Sound Contractors Association) members were starting to work with churches. I was tapped to do some presentations on church audio at the conference.

We did the very first Technologies for Worship event in Toronto around that same time. A by-product of those presentations was “Audio Systems Guide for Houses of Worship”. It had existed in several forms before it became the 80-page publication it is today.

Q: Let’s talk about the church audio community.

A: I’ve done presentations for a lot of different groups – from music stores, broadcast producers, sound contractor groups – just a lot of different people. We’ve developed educational material for all of them.

What distinguishes the church sound community from all of these other groups is that by a huge margin, the church sound attendee is so much more motivated to learn and be there and take a personal interest in education. The response that we’ve gotten from them is much more enthusiastic, much more focused than from any other group that I’ve addressed.

I think this enthusiasm is motivated by several factors – faith is one of the big ones. These folks are on their own recognizance – they’re not funded by their home church and at their home churches, the technical group is a volunteer organization. They want to do as good a job as they can. They want to improve their own skills so that they can improve the worship experience at their churches. They’re not motivated by ego needs or financial gain. And there’s another wrinkle to this: since there aren’t the funds to send a whole team to a seminar, they become de facto secondary educators for their people. Trainers. They are there not only to expand their own knowledge, but also to gather as much information as possible to bring back to their operations. The information we’re sharing goes to a much larger audience. We realized this very early on and that has spurred our interest in providing information to this audience.

Q: You have been involved in providing audio education for house of worship customers for over 20 years. What do you see as the “mission” here?

A: I would say the importance of creating an educated customer base, independent of actual product sales. A lot of our education materials are far removed from a sales angle. We want to tell people the truth and we also want to tell them something that’s useful. That’s why Shure Application Engineers and Market Development staff are invited to conferences and events – we don’t flog our products.

We talk about mixers, we talk about wireless, we talk about microphones – it’s general information. The church community picks up on this. I think it’s one of the reasons that Shure has enjoyed success. If we’re recognized as a source of reliable information, people will keep coming back for good stuff.

We not only provide specific information about Shure products, we provide much more general assistance about integrating our stuff into larger systems and making recommendations about non-Shure products. We do that all the time. If we don’t have the microphone, we’ll recommend a manufacturer that does. That’s part of our charter: to assist the customer to whatever extent we can. If there’s product out there that’s more appropriate for their application than something we have, we are at complete liberty to suggest it. That adds a lot to our credibility.

We’d like to thank Tim for his informed observations. And we’re grateful that he took the time from his Shure mission to talk to us about it.

Autor: Tim Vear

Jahr: 2006

Update: 17.11.2006

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© G. Baltes / T. Schröder

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