(Photo Courtesy Of Suicide Toyz)
Monitor speakers, also known as foldback speakers or wedges, are an often overlooked part of live concerts. They allow performers to hear themselves and each other, making them critical to a good performance. Monitors sometimes seem like a bit of an afterthought but, to put it bluntly, if the monitor mixes aren’t good, the performance won’t be good. If the performance isn’t good, it doesn’t really matter if the house mix is any good. Nothing done at the Front of House (FOH) console is ever going to fix a bad performance.
So here are some tips for mixing monitors, assuming that you’re working with a dedicated side stage monitor console, but most of this advice also applies to feeding monitors from the FOH console.
Part 1 – Setting up the console
A monitor console is usually set up a bit differently from a FOH console, the main difference being that a FOH console primarily uses the Left/Right main outputs, where monitor speakers are generally fed from the auxiliary sends.
Monitor patch: Monitors are usually fed from aux sends rather than the console’s main outs. Generally speaking, the most common approach to organizing a monitor setup is start at the downstage-right position, work across to downstage-left then upstage-right to upstage-left (figure 1). But the important thing is that you set things up in a way that makes sense to you.
Monitors are normally fed from pre-fader sends, although on occasion it can be handy to put certain channels in post-fader mode if you might need to adjust this channel in several mixes at once — for example, a guest or solo mic where multiple people might be using it throughout the show, causing the level to change from song to song.
Input patch: This isn’t exclusively monitor-related and, in fact, requires close coordination with the FOH mixer. Both engineers will need to understand the way in which stage inputs are organized and both engineers will need to be comfortable with it. There are many methods of assigning stage inputs, but the important thing is that everybody is working from the same input list!
In theory if you really disagree with your FOH mixer on the input list, you could cross-patch your end of the snake split or soft-patch within a digital console. However, these types of changes can get complicated and confusing very quickly, so it’s usually best to keep it simple and find a 1:1 patch scheme that works for everybody. Ultimately, the important thing is that you can find the channels you need quickly when you need them.
System equalization: You’ll want each speaker on the stage to have an EQ patched into its signal path. 31-band ⅓-octave graphic EQs have long been the standard for this purpose, but recently some digital consoles have started including parametric output EQs with 8 to 10 bands. These work as well and are even preferred by some engineers; even though they have fewer bands, they offer much greater control over each band.
The main purpose of system EQ with monitors is to eliminate feedback. Stage volumes can be pretty loud and the microphones are fairly close to speakers, making monitors prone to feedback if not properly EQ’d.
The process of setting system EQ on a monitor console, known as ‘ringing out the system’, is as follows:
Note: You should make sure to clear the stage before doing this, as the process involves loud squealing sounds that can potentially be damaging to people’s hearing.
Take a mic with a monitor behind it, as you would normally set it up on stage. You can use any mic and any monitor, but for simplicity lets say you have a mic in channel 1 and a monitor on aux 1.
Ensure the channel EQ on channel 1 is flat (or bypassed) as we are working with the output EQ for aux 1. With the aux 1 master at unity, turn up the aux 1 send on channel 1 until the mic starts to feed back, then back it off until the feedback goes away.
Take a guess at what frequencies were feeding back and, on the output EQ for aux 1, boost a frequency that you think is going to feed back. If you’re using a parametric EQ, you can boost and sweep until you find a frequency that feeds back; with a graphic EQ, you boost bands one by one until you find one that feeds back.
For any given frequency, the smaller the boost required to induce feedback, the more you should attenuate that band. If you have to crank the EQ band to make it feed back, you don’t need to cut that frequency.
Be sure to speak into the mic to make sure sound doesn’t reflect from the monitor off of your mouth cavity and back into the mic. Cup the mic with your hand and generally try to simulate some of the questionable mic technique (to be polite) that singers are prone to.
Listen wedge: This is your speaker. Since you will use this to cue other mixes so that you can hear what’s coming out of any given speaker that’s on the deck, you should feed this speaker from the console’s solo bus. Some consoles have a dedicated ‘listen wedge’ output on the back, sometimes it’s labelled ‘control room out’ or ‘PFL/AFL out’, and some digital consoles require that you manually assign the solo bus to an output of your choice. Regardless of how it is labelled, you want to be able to solo/cue any channel or mix master and have it come out of the listen wedge.
This concludes part 1 of this article. In part 2 we will discuss sound check, the show itself, and some general tips and tricks.
Neal Miskin is a producer, engineer, singer/songwriter, and live sound engineer based in Vancouver BC. You can check out Neal’s music at http://nealmiskinmusic.bandcamp.com