Live Sound Monitors for Dummies

Written by Ian Bonner on February 9th, 2016

your So, ever had unpleasant gig due to  monitoring? What was the issue? Feedback, clarity, the mix itself or maybe the static wedges refuses to follow you as you move all around the stage (how rude!).
Let us start with explaining what a monitor engineer actually does. So after reading your beautifully clear tech rider before the event the monitor engineer with place monitor speakers on stage and patch his system. Next, we have the bit that everyone loves, the famous 1, 2, 1, 2 (don’t forget to celebrate the 12th December, otherwise known as sound engineers day with your sound engineer friends). So why do they do this? Simple firstly to test their patching, then they will begin applying EQ to each wedge, this is crucial as this is the process that helps eliminate feedback issues by removing prominent frequencies within the system due to frequency responses of the equipment as well as the acoustics of the room and wedge position. This done badly is a world of pain and is a skillset in itself; seriously, engineers train their ears for years to able to do this perfectly. Then the mix stage, simple if the previous stage is done correctly, pain and horror if not. Simply giving musicians what they want in their monitor wedge, but there can be issues.

How can we make this easier? Musicians that are new to the gigging scene can have real problems during the mix stage due to untrained ears and nerves and misunderstanding how mixing works. A common issue I’ve experienced is musicians want more and a little more, of everything, then proceed to say that they cant hear themselves and you have a frustrated engineer because his meters are peaking and monitors are so loud that they are leaking into front of house. How to fix this? Simple, listen to what you are hearing and think about the mix compared to your surroundings there’s a drum kit behind you thumping away, with guitar and bass cabs either side. With nothing but your vocal in your monitors, how well can you really hear the band and how much they need to be reinforced through your wedge? Maybe a touch of guitar and some of the DI’ed keyboards to help you pitch? (This applies to all musicians, not just vocalists obviously) The point I’m making is, take a step back and analyse your mix with your surroundings and make any requests clear to your monitor engineer especially if your monitor engineer is also the front of house (eye contact is key I find) this way, your monitors remain clear with minimum microphone leakage and front of house leakage and a happy team and a great gig.

Different types of monitoring? Yes, such things do exist! Wedges, IEMs, side fills, centre fills, sub fills. WHAT?! Let me try to fix that confusion for you.

Wedges! Simple, speakers in “wedged” shape designed to sit on the floor and face towards you (we’ve all seen them). Pros? A decent wedge is clear (with a proper mix), loud, easy to troubleshoot if something goes wrong. Cons? Can cause leakage on mics (troublesome when recording), prone to feedback, prone to having a “drink” and they don’t like following you when you want to move around the stage.

IEMs or in-ear monitors are earphone amps and earphones and come in both wired and wireless varieties. Pros? Less noise leakage from the stage, therefore, good for vocals and for a more isolated mix, nearly impossible to feedback, if using wireless IEMs you can basically go all over the stage and still have a consistent mix, no leakage which can help provide cleaner live recordings. Cons? IEM’s run on batteries and therefore have to be checked every so often as losing power would not be the most pleasant experience, There are more elements in the signal chain, which equates to more potential technical issues and issues with wireless frequencies, which can be very bothersome. You can’t physically “feel” the music, lots of musicians love thumping bass through their chests, with IEMs you only have on stage noise which some bass junkies believe is insufficient thumping of bass.

“Fills” are literally just that, “fillers” of sound usually used when a band is on IEMs. Their job is to fill the stage with noise so that musicians can “feel” their music, which is great! BUT, introduces leakage to the whole stage as well as potential feedback issues. The most common types of fills are side fills which are speaker stacks either side of stage pointing inwards and sub fills, typically for drummers who love a 22-inch sub sat next to them for intense amounts of bass (I’m really trying hard not to bring up any drummer jokes here). Personally, I wouldn’t recommend using any sort of fills unless you have a big enough stage and the spare budget, talk to the engineers discuss your options.

In the end, it’s down to your  personal preference, experiment with the different options and takes the time to get accustomed to IEMs when trying them out. Feel free to get in contact if you have any questions.
Remember, play with heart, listen to your surroundings and your mix and work with your engineers!

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