CTA Classroom: Quick Monitor Tips

As I've had family in town all week, today's post is going to be simple and quick. I want to throw out three quick tips for helping get your monitor mixes dialed in faster and with a little less stress. The general assumption here is that you're mixing wedges from FOH, but the principles will apply to just about any situation.

Start with a Rough Mix

For some, this may seem obvious, but it makes a big difference. Back when I was mixing on analog consoles, we would typically zero out the board after every weekend. So when the band got there, they didn't hear themselves or anything else in the wedges. It took me a while, but I learned they found this disconcerting. 

My initial fix to this problem was to put just each instrument in their wedge to start. That helped, but the more I played with it, the more I found that I could build a basic mix even before they got there that would end up reasonably close to what they wanted.

I started noting roughly where the gains were for each input, and set those appropriately. And I would dial up a rough mix just to get them started. I've been doing this for the past few years and have found it helps sound check go a lot faster.

Right now, our vocalists are the only ones on wedges, and the only mixes we do from FOH (the band is on Roland M-48s), and we are typically two to three tweaks away from getting the monitors set each week, at least initially.

Sound in the House

I like to have the sound in the main PA when I'm getting my monitors dialed in for the band. I've done it both ways, keeping the mains off and trying to get the monitors set up, then brining up the mains; and leaving the mains on the whole time.

I've found that the mains are going to influence the sound the band hears, so why not work with it from the get-go. This also has the side benefit of helping me get my gain structure set up the way I want, because I'm hearing it in the house as I set gain. Once the house is right, setting the monitors goes pretty quickly.

Raise Your Hands if You're Sure

This is another one that seems obvious once you do it, but it took me a few years to catch on. If you're mixing a bunch of wedges, going through each instrument for each wedge can take a long time and be very frustrating. Instead, I like to use the hand method.

Simply, I will go through and do one input at a time, say the kick. I'll have the drummer hit the kick, and set the gain. The band is asked to raise their hand if they want that input in their wedge. When they have enough, they drop their hand.

We proceed through the whole channel list in this manner. Once we get that set, I'll usually have the band play a verse and chorus of a song we're doing that weekend. Then I will go through each band member and ask them for individual tweaks (more snare, less bass, etc.).

If you've started off with a rough mix and they need less of something from the start, I ask them to simply point their hand down until it's low enough. Typically, I try to keep my rough mixes all a bit low, so it's not a big problem.

With that method, even a large band can be set up quickly and efficiently. And that's important because musicians have short attention spans and if we loose them, it's a hard job getting it back.

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