I know a lot of churches that mix monitors from FOH. For most of my church career, that’s been the case. To be sure, having a dedicated monitor position, console and engineer is a lot easier, but it’s not practical for most of us. And while we’d all love to have all our musicians and vocalists on in-ears, wedges still are a fact of life for many churches.
For most of the churches I’ve mixed in, the biggest challenge for mixing monitors is that as an engineer, I can’t hear what I’m mixing. Sometimes you can solo up an aux and put headphones on, but that doesn’t really give you a sense for what’s going on at the wedge on stage. You take a guess at how much “a little more guitar” is and hope you don't over- or under-shoot.
When I arrived at Coast Hills, we had a dedicated monitor position. One of the tasks I was charged with was eliminating it (mainly for budgetary reasons). While I was OK with this, I learned a valuable lesson in mixing monitors while working up there a few weekends; we had a cue wedge at monitors that was set to mirror whatever mix was soloed. This worked brilliantly; when someone asked for more kick, we could actually hear it, and we could tell when we moved it up enough to make a difference.
After we eliminated monitor world, I moved that cue wedge up to FOH. Our mixing console has two solo busses, which is quite handy. Solo 1 is set up to cue individual channels into our headphones. Solo 2 is set up to drive the cue wedge. When we put any of our aux mixes in sends on fader mode (by pressing solo), what the artists hear on stage comes out in our cue wedge as well.
This has proven to be a great thing, especially since we’re in the balcony 90 feet away from the stage. I honestly have no idea what’s going on in their wedge, but cuing it up at FOH is wonderful. If they start to get out of control, and start asking for changes that don’t make sense, I can listen to their mix and hear what’s wrong.
One of the keys to making this work is calibrating the volume of the cue wedge to the volume of the wedges on stage. This is fairly easy if all the wedges are the same (which is the ideal situation anyway). We calibrated ours by playing back some pink noise through a stage wedge, then measuring the level with an SPL meter. It doesn’t matter if it’s totally accurate or not; you just need a value. Then, go up to FOH and cue up that mix in the cue wedge. Adjust the amp driving the wedge to produce the same volume.
It’s critical that you keep the volume calibrated, so it’s not a bad idea to mark the master solo level and the amp levels in case they get moved. How you connect and bus everything is going to be dependent on your console, and it may take some experimentation to get it working optimally. Reading the manual or even calling tech support may help here. I won’t even try to explain it here as there are many ways consoles support this.
If you can get this up and running, you will find mixing monitors from FOH a much easier task. We placed our wedge in a location that allows it to be pulled out during sound check so we can hear it easily, then pushed back under the desk when we’re done. Typically we’re not making many adjustments once the actual rehearsal gets going, so we move it out of the way.
While not completely ideal, mixing monitors from FOH is what most of us in churches have to do. Having a cue wedge makes it a lot easier—give it a shot and see what you think!