Proper Stage Monitor Setup: Meeting the Desires of the Band

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Photo provided by MikeGoat

I’ve always set the monitor levels first, with the mains off, that’s how ____ taught me to do it,” they said to me.  As those words escaped the sound tech’s lips, I could tell they had been trained by a musician.

A musician wants to hear the right sounds in the monitor. They want to hear themselves in the monitor. However, if you go with a musician-centric stage monitor setup you are going to have problems with stage volume and clarity in your mix. Let’s look at the problem of a musician-centric setup and how an audience-centric setup correctly deals with these issues.

Musician-centric;

  • Setting monitors first starts you off on the wrong foot because, basing the monitor mix on a absent of the mains, you will be raising monitors levels in excess of what they could be if the mains were active. Therefore, you’re adding volume to monitors that does not have to be added to the same degree if the main speakers were active. I think I just said the same thing twice…consider it important enough to say twice.
  • Monitor levels are unrestricted. You are setting levels without any regard to their volume bleeding off the stage. This is done in part because you are giving the musicians what they want but as you don’t have the main house volume to compare, you can’t tell when the stage volume is so great that it’s negatively affecting the house mix and the audience in the first few rows.
  • Right out of the mixing gate, you are mixing against the stage volume. Phrased more accurate to what’s happening, you are mixing so the blend of the mains and the stage volume produces a good sound.

Audience-centric;

  • Setting the general house levels first, you can set up your baseline mix for the room without having to deal with and existing loud stage volume. The musicians are also hearing a limited amount of volume in the room in which they can base their monitor requests.
  • Monitor levels can be limited as you will hear the point where they are impacting the house mix. At this point, you can work with the musicians to modify their monitor mixes so they get the sounds they need…

…for example, a musician might find that if they drop another instrument’s volume in their mix, that they don’t need to boost another quite so much. Also, you can tell them that when their monitor levels go above a certain volume, the audience is hearing a bad sound because of the mixing of house and monitor sounds at different times.

Wait, but what if…

My wife knows how I can easily debate both sides of anything. With that in mind, let’s say you go with a musician-centric setup process by setting monitor levels without turning on the mains. And let’s say you can do it AND get a good mix as a final result.

I’m going out on a very short limb and guessing your mixing process involves quite a bit of back and forth with the monitors after you set your house mix levels and/or you spend an extended period of time working on the house mix to mix the monitor sounds in with the house. You are spending more time than you should!

Keep it simple

Here is a simple outline for running your sound check after checking line levels and such;

  1. Set your channel gains, with the faders set to zero, for a good baseline mix.
  2. Perform some simple eq’ing on your channels so they are close to where you want the sound. Note that frequency changes can raise or low the volume of a channel.
  3. Set the monitor mixes with the house speakers on.
  4. During the next practice song, walk up within a few rows of the stage and listen for the monitors. If they are washing past the 2nd row of seats, you’ll need to turn them down.
  5. Put the finishing touches on your mix.

Summary

Musicians want to hear the right sounds in the monitors so they can play tight as a band. However, you should know their real desire is for the audience to hear a great sound. Using the proper stage monitor setup, you can reach both of these goals.

Question: What’s your biggest problem with monitors / stage volume?

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Comments

  1. Paul says

    My church uses different monitors for the vocalists and the instrumentalists. The problem is,no matter how much we increase the instrumentalists’ monitor volume,they still complain that they can’t hear themselves as an individual. Help please!

    • says

      Give them ONLY the sounds they need to play in time and in pitch. They don’t need to hear everything in their mix. And instead of turning up their sound, turn down other instruments/singers in the monitor. Now, if you have a bunch of musicians sharing the same monitor mix, then there isn’t much you can do.

  2. harold says

    hi there how to hook up a monitor to the mixer.I have a yorksville VGM14.My monitor is makie SRM150.

    • says

      Look online for a manual if you don’t have one. The Mackie is a powered monitor so you can run an Aux output directly from your mixer to the amplifier.

  3. says

    Thank you.
    As we have entered into the near, we are changing some positions at church and minus the fact I want to start learning more about sound, I also now need to learn more about it. It looks like I have found a solid site to learn from and will be passing along some blogs.
    I have heard this also regarding monitors, but now I know more why.

    K, bye

  4. Liberty says

    do i really need a side full on my stage to complement the monitors, so that the band has a feel of the front of house?

    • says

      Regarding side fills for a FOH feel, I’d say it depends on the desire of the band. If they say “I want to know what it sounds like in the congregation” well…side fills can do that but it’s still not the same as sitting out there. They should focus on hearing what they need to play in time and in key. They should leave the mixing up to you.

    • says

      It’s ok if your monitors are sent a dry (non-modified) signal as long as the musicians know that they are hearing something different than the house.

  5. says

    While I agree with what you are saying it doesn’t always work in every room. Our church meets in a gym, when empty it has a bad echo. Setting the mix for the band from the mains first causes the monitor levels to be higher as they fight to over come the slap-back off the rear wall. We set wedges first, aiming for the lowest levels the musicians can work with then bring the mains in. Works for us, max 90db “A” slow at FOH, 75 ft from stage. (unless the drummer is going crazy.)

  6. Robert says

    You are so right. Years ago when i was still a newb behind the board the worship leader decided that he would help me set the levels. Yes he started with the wedges and worked outward. When he was done all I could think of was “This sounds so awful and I hope he doesn’t notice me changing things back.” Slowly and carefully I went about resetting the levels, while the band practiced. When I was done the mix sounded right and nobody noticed anything. After practice the worship leader came over and asked me how it went I umm and ummed for a few moments until he noticed I had put everything back. He was upset and I told him it had sounded like really bad garage band. I got the musician glare and he walked away the band was better off and my skills grew a notch or two that night.

  7. Ross Petersen says

    I must admit that I used to do the musician-centric approach awhile ago, but now I have adopted the audience-centric approach which seems to work out better.

    One big problem we have is that awhile ago the church leadership decided to move the sound desk into a separate room with a small open window so we can supposedly hear what the sound sounds like in the main church area. The reality though is that what we hear is very top end compared to the sound in the main church area. This necessitates having somebody being in the church and walking backwards and forwards to the sound room through two doors to communicate the need to make changes.with inevitable delays.

    If somebody could give some advice on this problem I would really appreciate it.,

  8. Cajundaddy says

    One of the problems that often comes up is full bass in the monitor mix during pre-service rehearsal. Because low frequency music tends to be omnidirectional, once the mains are fully up to level a lot of bass energy from 50-200hz wraps around and fills the stage. The effect is a monitor mix that gets really bass heavy, muddy and loses definition. Bad for musicians and audience alike. The solution is to either fire up the mains at the beginning of rehearsal (not always possible) or roll off the bass in the stage monitors once the mains are engaged. If musicians are aware of this problem then they are much more accepting of remixing the monitors just before service begins. Clarity and definition is king in a good monitor mix.

  9. Raka says

    My biggest problem is having only 2 monitor wedges for 5 musicians and 4 singers.

    At the moment the stage arrangement as follows from the front stage: Musician – Singers – Monitor Speakers – Main Speakers – Audience.

  10. Frederick says

    Can someone tell me what type of effects are used for live sound. I’m trying to do some at church to help the singers blend a bit better. I tried a hall effect but that did not work.

    Here is a youtube video of some guys singing that blend pretty well, I’m not sure what effect they use though..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b09TUxBNgQ

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