3.5 Ways to Mix Monitors, Pt. 1

Photo courtesy of Chris Hsia

Photo courtesy of Chris Hsia

Recently a reader in Australia emailed a question about mixing monitors. They are in the process of upgrading their console and trying to decide what the best way to handle monitor mixes will be. As I pondered my answer, it occurred to me that others might benefit from this thought process. In this series, I’m going to give you the 3.5 ways there are to handle monitor mixes and their pros and cons. It should be noted that there isn’t necessarily a “best” method. The best method is what works best for your situation. 

As I see it, you can mix monitors 1) from a monitor desk, 2) from personal mixers, 3) from FOH and 3.5) from FOH using a computer or app to control the mixes while the FOH operator handles FOH duties. Of course, you can also do combinations of these, which greatly increase the permutations. But we’ll stick with these for the sake of simplicity. Today, we’ll handle the monitor desk.

Monitor Beach

Having a dedicated monitor desk has many advantages. Typically, the desk is on the side of the stage, which makes it easy for musicians to communicate with the monitor engineer. Because the EQ, gain and processing is totally separate from FOH, each musician’s mix can be very customized. The monitor engineer can dial up exactly the right amount of EQ for every input that makes for a great in-ear mix without affecting the house. 

A good monitor engineer will be on top of changes and will even make adjustments on the fly based on the changing nature of the set. I’ve known monitor guys to do extensive snapshotting to make sure the artists are as happy as possible with their mixes throughout the entire set. These are some real advantages. In some ways, this could be said to be “best” as the artists really should be getting exactly what they want.

The Downsides

All this goodness doesn’t come without cost, however. First, you need physical space for the desk itself. Not all churches are configured for a monitor desk on stage right or left. You also need a split of the audio signal. With digital growing in popularity, this is getting easier. However, it still adds a layer of complexity and cost to the system. And of course, there is the monitor console itself. Often, this can be a second surface sharing the same stage boxes, but they don’t give those away. 

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for churches is the need for a second operator. Finding qualified FOH guys is hard enough—adding a second one every week can be a real challenge. This is especially true in smaller churches. Some view monitors as a training ground for FOH, or will put less experienced people back there. I’m not convinced this is a good idea. It’s one thing to keep one mix dialed in and sounding good; keeping 8 or 10 people happy with individual mixes is not easy and the engineer has to be good, fast and able to work with the band. 

Is It Right For Your Church?

A lot of times, people will go to a conference at a big church, see a dedicated monitor engineer there and conclude they need that at their church. I caution against this. Not every church needs a dedicated monitor position. In fact, I know of an extremely large church in the Midwest that does all their IEMs from FOH. They could easily find room for monitors, they have the people and budget really isn’t a big issue. However, they don’t do it because it doesn’t fit their workflow. 

So before you go rushing out do add a new desk in to the mix (pun intended), consider whether this is really right for you. Next time, we’ll look at personal mixers, and after that mixing monitors from FOH. Hopefully, this will arm you with the information you need to make a good decision.

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Cleaning House

Image courtesy of Bart Everson

Image courtesy of Bart Everson

When I was writing my previous post on ProPresenter training, it occurred to me that I haven’t written about the one thing that we never want to talk about as TDs; removing people from the tech team. It seems completely counter-intuitive, after all. We are told by leadership over and over we need to be growing our team; recruiting and expanding; adding more to the volunteer ranks. And while that’s true to some extent, the reality not everyone can thrive on the tech team. In fact, most cannot. I’ll say it again in case you missed it;

Not everyone can thrive on the tech team. 

This is not meant to sound exclusive or arrogant. It’s not meant to make people feel bad. However, it is reality. Not everyone has the temperament or skill set to do a great job in tech. And that’s OK. We have to get rid of this idea that just because someone wants to serve on the tech team they should.

It Takes All Kinds

People volunteer for all kinds of reasons. Some people will fill out the form because the pastor asked for volunteers, and as someone who likes to serve and be helpful, they checked the Tech box. They may not have any ability or inclination to do it, but hey, they’re happy to try. There are a few areas people can serve where “happy to try” is acceptable. Tech is not one of them. 

Some people have a little bit of background in production and will come to a new church and try to serve. These were often the ones I had the hardest time with. They may have been the “leper with the most fingers” at their last church (of 75 people) and could figure out how to push the fader up for the pastor’s mic. But standing behind a modern, large format digital console is a whole different ballgame. That’s OK. Don’t equate different with bad.

Some people volunteer because they think it will be fun, but they can’t figure out how to skip commercials on their DVR. They may not be the best choice for the tech team.

Figure It Out Early

I always had a conversation with my new recruits right off the bat in which I spelled out very clearly what the requirements were for the position. I clearly defined the time commitments, the training required and what I expected them to bring to the table. I gave them an easy out—if you don’t want to do this, it’s cool. Just tell me now. If they started to falter over the next few weeks, I had that conversation again and again asked if they really wanted to do this. A lot of times, they admitted they didn’t. Time to move on.

Sometimes, you inherit a team that is just not up to snuff. Sometimes it’s because they were never trained properly. I always start with the assumption that I can help people get better. However, if after spending time with them and determining that they are not right for the team, I move them out quickly and graciously. It’s dangerous to keep someone in a position who clearly doesn’t belong because you need that position covered.

God Provides—On Time

Sometimes, I believe God will withhold a perfect volunteer until we step out in faith and create the space. I can’t tell you how many times I would somewhat fearfully move someone off the team because they weren’t up to the task, only to have someone who turned out to be a rockstar show up the next week. The new rockstars almost never showed up before I created the space on the team, however. In fact, I’m not sure they ever did. Sometimes we went a few weeks without anyone, but it was better than having someone who was doing a terrible job. And my faith grew every time.

We have to remember that we’re not serving our boss, our congregation or even the pastor ultimately. We are serving God when we are in the role of tech team leader. We have to have faith that He called us to that role, and that He will provide for our needs; including team members. Don’t let your fear hold Him back from bringing you the right people.

Roland