“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.
- 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.
- 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;
- Set your channel gains, with the faders set to zero, for a good baseline mix.
- 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.
- Set the monitor mixes with the house speakers on.
- 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.
- Put the finishing touches on your mix.
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?