This will stand you in really good stead when it comes to setting up monitor mixes on stage for the band musicians, and it will make setting the mixes easier.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in a band on stage we have a lead singer also playing acoustic guitar, an electric guitarist, a keyboard player, a bassist, a drummer and at least one other singer. Of course the odds are that you won’t have exactly that, but hopefully at least some of this will be easy to adapt!
The tricky part is going to be how to set up monitor mixes so each of the musicians can hear everything they need, within the limitations of the equipment you have available.
The number of different mixes that you can send to the stage is going to depend on how many aux sends you have free on the desk, how many separate amplifiers you have to power the monitor-speakers on stage. More is generally better, because different musicians will probably need to prioritize what they hear differently, but more often than not you will have to compromise and have musicians share mixes to some extent.
In an ideal world you would like:
- an independent one for the band leader, this will be the hardest to mix as they will need to hear everything in the band with the possible exception of drums.
- one for any other vocalists, it’s not always necessary to run independent mixes for each singer as they will need to hear themselves, the lead vocal, the lead instrument(s) and probably not much else.
- keyboard players will usually prefer to have their own monitor mix as they need to be able to have a lot of their own instrument in there, considering they usually don’t have a separate amp.
- acoustic guitarists usually benefit from their own separate mix as the acoustic sound is very easily overwhelmed by all the other sounds on stage. Having said that, they don’t need as much as a keyboard player so are more flexible.
- electric guitarists and bassists are usually fairly flexible because they have the luxury of their own backline amps to hear themselves from, so sharing a mix is pretty simple.
- drummers will usually require their own physical monitor because they tend to be isolated by the physical size of the drums to the point where sharing a monitor is impractical, but sharing the same mix as another instrument usually works because drums are rarely too quiet.
So five or six separate mixes. Unfortunately, the majority of churches that I’ve worked on sound for haven’t been able to spare this many aux sends, so the musicians have to be grouped together to suit. In fact, the most common situation is to have just two separate sends, split into ‘front’ and ‘rear’ of stage.
Although this might seem very restrictive, actually it’s very usable. The ‘front’ mix usually includes the leader, backing vocalists and probably either a second guitar or keyboard or similar. The ‘rear’ mix will be for the drummer and bassist, as well as any other instruments you have such as keyboard or guitar that are not on the ‘front’ mix.
The front mix will have to be pretty vocals-dominated, as they are arguably the hardest to keep in tune without being able to hear clearly. The lead instruments(s) will also have to be fairly present to help guide the vocals to give them a solid time/pitch reference.
The band leader will need to be able to hear everyone in the band to coordinate them properly, but this won’t mean they all have to be heavy in the mix. In fact things like bass and drums may not need to be mixed in at all because their direct volume on stage is loud enough to be heard already. You will have to be considerate of any electronic instruments in the front that don’t have their own backline amp, and come to a compromise on how much of themselves can be put in.
The rear mix will fortunately be much simpler, bass and drums again probably are unnecessary, all they really need is the lead vocal and lead instrument(s) and beyond that it’s down to personal preference, and the on-stage volume you’d like to keep to. Sometimes a bit of kick and snare in the rear foldback helps the rhythm section keep really tight and in-sync with each other.
There are three big benefits to keeping the monitor mixes stripped down to the essentials like this:
- The musicians will be able to hear clearer even though it’s quieter.
- The overall volume of the foldback can be significantly less than if everyone has everything in their monitors.
- You spend less time mixing monitors for individuals, giving you more time for the front of house mix
For me, number 2 is the biggest plus. It means there is a lot less spill from the stage into the rest of the building, which in turn not only makes the front of house mix easier to balance but also easier to hear.
You don’t need to reach quite such a high volume for the mix to overpower/balance against the spill from stage, which will keep those with more sensitive hearing happy.
If there are more than two usable aux sends available to you then by all means set up some more mixes if you have the time! People to prioritise are those who are likely to have difficulty hearing themselves in a shared mix, such as keyboards or electric guitars without an amp.
Not only will they then be able to have more of themselves in their monitors, but everyone else will be able to have less making the mixes cleaner and keeping the volume down. If you still have more aux sends and time available, a separate mix for the band leader will probably be the next most useful.
How many mixes do you like to work with? I’m sure someone will bring up IEM’s… but I’ve never yet had the pleasure of working with them on stage myself, have you?!