3.5 Ways to Mix Monitors, Pt. 5

Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao

Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao

Hey, guess what? We’re back with more on monitor mixing! As it turns out, there was another .5 way I should have mentioned. Whether I should have titled the series 4 Ways to Mix Monitors or 3.5.5 Ways to Mix Monitors is open for debate. Still, I stand by my original 3.5 ways to do it, but I want to mention another method that might be helpful. 

This was mentioned in the comments by Andrew last week, and as soon as he mentioned it, I thought, “Do! I should have mentioned that.” So here we are. 

Splitting the Board

One of the cool things about digital mixing consoles is that it is very easy to double patch your inputs. So easy in fact, if you have the channels, you can actually create a second complete copy of the input set on the desk. Let’s say you have a 32 channel board, and you use 12 channels each week from the stage. You could double-patch every input to two layers of the console. The top layer could be your FOH mix, while the second layer would be your monitor mix. 

Why would you do that? Well, the primary reason is to build custom EQ and effects for monitors and FOH, separately. Sometimes, the EQ you do for FOH doesn’t work well for monitors, and visa-versa. A board split like this makes it easy to keep both happy. 

Upsides

As mentioned, being able to set separate EQ and compression for the monitors can be a real boon to the musicians. It also frees up the FOH engineer to make decisions based on what is best for the room without being worried that it’s going to mess up the musicians. While audio is usually a compromise somewhere, it’s nice to not have to compromise this. It also has the added benefit of separating the monitor sends from FOH. By putting the channels for monitors on a separate layer (or on separate channels, depending on the board), it reduces the chances that you’ll accidentally mess up the FOH mix when you meant to adjust a monitor mix. Sends on faders can be your best friend or worst enemy. 

Downsides

While the added flexibility is good, it also adds complexity. This may not be good. For beginning engineers, or those new to digital, this can be confusing. Or not. It depends. You’ll have to assess your team before deciding to go this route. Obviously, it burns channels, double in fact. Depending on the console, it can either be easy or hard to logically split the channels out; again this is something you need to assess. It also could mean a few more button presses to get to monitors, which may slow you down a bit. 

Is It Right For Your Church?

That is the question. Like every other method we’ve talked about, there are pros and cons, and not every method is right for every setting. In this case, you obviously need to have the spare channels, and the ability to manage two copies of every input. If you are setting a completely different stage each week, this could get tedious fast. But if you have a very similar or the same band configuration each week, this may be a Godsend. 

OK, I think we’re really done now. Unless anyone else has any crazy ideas on how to mix monitors!

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3.5 Ways to Mix Monitors, Pt. 4

Today we wrap up or series of how to mix monitors. We have previously considered a dedicated monitor console, personal mixers and mixing from FOH. Today, we’ll look at what is the .5 of the 3.5 ways of this series. I chose not to call it a fourth way because it’s really a hybrid approach. Or hybrid approaches. 

FOH + Personal Mixers

You see, you don’t have to commit 100% to any one method. You can combine them. For example, when we made the transition to personal mixers at Coast Hills, I put the band on Roland M-48s but mixed the wedges—yes, wedges for a while—for vocalists from FOH. We then moved the vocals to ears, still mixed from FOH. Finally, we bought some more M-48s and everyone on stage was mixing themselves. Except for big events, when I again mixed vocals from FOH as we needed all the M-48s for the larger band. 

Monitor Console + Personal Mixers

Sometimes, you can combine a monitor console and personal mixers. I know several churches that do this. They use the monitor console to create stems for the personal mixers. Chances are, there are a few direct channels in there, but mostly, there are sub-mixes. Moving these mixes to another console means you can customize EQ, effects and other processing in a way that works great for IEMs without effecting the house. You can even create multiple universes of personal mixes and send different stem mixes to them. Being able to do this from a monitor console makes life much less complicated. 

FOH + Monitor Console

I also know some bands who will put the band on personal mixers and mix the lead or leads from the monitor desk. Or, for really large events, when you’ve filled up the monitor console, you can always mix some from FOH. Routing can get tricky, and the musicians need to know who to contact for changes, but it can be done (I’ve done it, in fact). 

The overall point is, you don’t have to do just one. We have reached a great point in mixing technology where we have multiple, good choices on how to do the same thing. And with those many, viable methods, we can come up with the combination that serves our band, our budget, our congregation and ourselves the best. Mixing mixing systems (see what I did there?) gives us the best of all worlds. You don’t even have to commit to one configuration exclusively. Let’s say you normally have everyone on personal mixers, but you have a new vocalist this week. You might want to mix their monitors for a few weeks (or months) to help them get comfortable with how a good . I always held 2-4 aux mixes open on my console for the occasional mix or three that I might have to do for a new player or vocalist. 

Also, don’t assume that the way the big church down the street (or across the country) is doing it is the way you should do it. Carefully consider your needs and come up with the best solution for your church. Just because a lot of churches are going to personal mixers doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it. It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Weight the options and come up with the best solution. Hopefully, this series has helped.

Roland

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3.5 Ways to Mix Monitors, Pt. 3

Continuing our series in mixing monitors, we’re taking today about mixing monitors from FOH. In the previous two episodes, we’ve considered mixing monitors from a dedicated monitor console and personal mixers. Today, we’ll look at mixing monitors from FOH. Now, some might immediately discount the idea of mixing monitors from a FOH console as amateurish. However, my friend Andrew Stone does this, and few—if any—would call him an amateur. 

Making It Work

The basic premise of mixing monitors from FOH is simple; use the aux sends on the console to drive ears or wedges for the band. Often times, this is wireless ears, but wired can be accomplished with the use of headphone amps. Depending on the console, the mixes may be mono or stereo—this will be a function of how many aux sends are available. Again, depending on the console, there may be a bunch of returns in the snake or the outputs will come off a stage box. Digital consoles are making this easier to do as stage boxes typically have a fair number of outputs on them. From the output, you’re either driving wireless transmitters or headphone amps. 

Upsides

The biggest upside to this method is that every input—even local ones—are available for the musicians at any level they desire. You don’t have to worry about splits, or how to get the ProPresenter channels down to monitor beach. Whatever is on the console can go to the band. You don’t have to worry about channel limitations, musicians not being able to mix or how to fit everything in. Having everything centrally located, so to speak, can be a big advantage. Troubleshooting mixes is also easy. If you’re the only tech guy on staff, not having to run between two boards to solve a problem can be a real time and stress saver. But, there are some limitations. 

Downsides

While the biggest upside is that all your console channels are available, the biggest downside is often that you don’t have enough mixes. Small to mid-size consoles typically have between 6-16 aux mixes. And if you want to use effects, you need at least 1-4 of them for that purpose. On smaller consoles, you may have 16 auxes, but if you want to do stereo mixes—and I think you should if at all possible—you will have a maximum of 8 people you can mix for. But since you’ll have some effects running, you probably can only do 7. 

On larger consoles, you can do more, but of course, that means more to keep track of. The workload goes up when you have to keep 6, 8 or a dozen musicians happy plus keep FOH sounding great. This is not to say it’s impossible, it just takes a little more work. You have to be a bit more intentional during soundcheck to make sure you get the mixes dialed in right and quickly before starting on the house mix. 

Is right for your church?

Again, this is something you need to think about. On some levels, the lack of complexity is very nice. With everything in one spot, it’s easy to manage. But it does increase the workload on the FOH engineer. It is cost-effective, however. Personal mixing systems can be expensive, as is a second console. In any monitor situation, you need wedges, wireless IEMs or headphone amps, so when we take those out of the equation, mixing from FOH is the least expensive solution. It’s also not a bad way to start. For a young or growing or transitioning church, you can start off mixing from FOH, then add personal mixers or a monitor desk as money and personnel permit. 

Alright, so those are the 3 methods for mixing monitors. Next time, we’ll consider the .5 way. 

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3.5 Ways to Mix Monitors, Pt. 2

We are currently in a series about how to mix monitors (which astute readers will discern from the title of this post). Last time, we talked about using a dedicated monitor console. This time around, we’ll consider using personal mixers. Personal mixers are not really a new phenomenon; Aviom pioneered them in the late ’90s. Thankfully, we have many more options today than we did 15 years ago. Let’s first consider how personal mixers work.

Mixers…For Everyone!

The basic idea of a personal mixer is just that—each musician gets their own mixer and can craft their own mix. Most personal mixing systems mix between 16-40 channels, and those channels are either direct outs of individual channels from the FOH board, or mixes from said board. For example, you may use a direct out for the worship leader’s vocal, but a mix for the drum kit. How many direct channels versus mixes you have will depend on how many channels your personal mixing system will mix, how many inputs you’re using and how many mixes you have free on the console. 

Essentially, each musician gets these channels and can mix their ears themselves. When they are working with direct outs, each musician can individually control the level of those channels. With mixes, everyone has to compromise. For example, if you have a mix of the drum kit and someone wants more snare in the mix, everyone gets more snare in the mix. Sometimes it takes some creativity to come up with a mix solution that makes everyone happy, but it can work quite nicely. 

The Upsides

The thing that everyone appreciates about personal mixing is that every musician can have their own, personalized mix. Most of the time, this is true of a dedicated monitor console as well, unless the monitor console runs out of mixes. For the most part, personal mixer systems can be expanded to as large a system as necessary to get everyone their own mix. You don’t run out of mixes on the console, you simply add another mixing station. Sometimes that means adding another distribution hub, but the systems can get quite large. 

With everyone building their own mixes, in theory anyway, everyone should be happy. It also removes a significant burden from the FOH engineer. Keeping the engineer’s workload down is a big benefit of personal mixing systems. There may be some touchup to do on the mixes once in a while, but if the gain structure is correct and the mixes set correctly, it should be minimal. 

The Downsides

Not all is rosy with personal mixers, however. Not all musicians can build a mix and some really struggle with it. Having all those mixers all over stage can also lead to a significant amount of stage clutter (though this can be minimized by moving the mixers off or upstage prior to the service). And with some systems, driving wireless IEMs creates some wiring challenges. 

Some debate how many channels a personal mixer should mix. Often, it seems like 16 is not enough, but many contend that much more than that can be confusing to some artists. Again, they’re musicians, not engineers. Personally, I like the Roland M-48s, which will mix 40 channels, but in 16 stereo groups. As the engineer, I have control over the level of every channel for each mixer, but the artist only has 16 knobs to turn. Digital Audio Labs LiveMix offers 24 channels, which seems like a good compromise, though for some churches, 16 channels is enough (check out Elite Core). 

Another downside is cost. Personal mixing systems are not cheap. Except for the Behringer system. That actually is pretty cheap. And it’s not terrible. But the rest have a cost associated with them. And sometimes, going from 8 mixers to 9 will require another distribution hub, which can add another $1,000-2,000 to the cost of that 9th mixer. This is not to say they are not worth it, but you do have to consider the cost, so to speak. 

Is it for your church?

Ultimately, you have to decide if the upsides outweigh the downsides. I like personal mixers. I have found that when set up correctly, it helps the musicians get what they want, while freeing me up for the task of mixing FOH. It also saves me from having to have a dedicated monitor engineer. But not everyone agrees, so you’ll have to work it out. 

Next time, we’ll consider mixing monitors from FOH.

Roland

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