Helping Vocalists Master Their Mix Pt. 2

A few days ago, I suggested that vocalists really need to hear 3, perhaps 4 things in their monitors. Those things are Tempo, Pitch, Themselves and (optionally) Harmony. If we as sound engineers put more than that in their mix, we are generally doing them a disservice. I say generally because professional singers (or people who are really well and do this all the time) like to have a full mix. They have learned to hear themselves and really need a backing track to sing to. Volunteers who sing once or twice a month however, are better served with a kindler, simpler mix.

The question before us today is this; How do we convince them that this is in fact, all they need? Well, that's easy. We turn the knobs, we make the mix. (I'm kidding...). Seriously, here are a few suggestions.

Talk to Them

Sounds crazy, I know. However, too often sound engineers will stand behind the board at front of house (or monitor world) and try to convince someone on stage they need this or that. I suggest this is a poor way to go. Get out from behind the board, walk up to the stage and have a conversation. Don't take the tack, "I'm the sound guy, I know best," or "I read this on some really smart guy's blog," (let me know which one it was, by the way...). Rather, come at it as a suggestion. Note that you've noticed that they often are struggling with the monitors. Offer an option to try something new that you think might help. Ask them to try it for a few weeks to see how it feels. Give them some rationale for your technique, then work really hard to make it work for them. Seriously folks, if our bands know we're working really hard to serve them well, it won't even matter if it sounds better or not. They will come around.

Show Them

I once had a really hard time convincing vocalists to hold their mics closer to their mouths than their navel. I tried all kinds of things: Explaining the inverse square law (met with blank stares); turning down their feed in the monitors to make them sing louder (didn't work); motioning with an imaginary microphone (resulted in very confused looks). Finally, during a break, I picked up the talkback mic and demonstrated it. Near…far. Near…far. I talked close to the mic, and far from the mic. They instantly heard the difference and they all held the mic properly after that.

Same concept here. After you've talked with them, set up a mix the way you think it should be. Then have them try it. Point out to them how much easier it is to hear the pitch, tempo and their own voice with a simpler mix. Often, it takes just one song for the lights to go on in their heads.

Get Worship Leader Buy In

Sometimes, you really need the worship leader to have your back. Again, a lot of this comes from relationship. If you have a good relationship with your worship leader, you can talk with him or her and come up with a plan. If they get the concept, if you have to you can push it through. When we changed from wireless IEMs to Avioms at Upper Room, I spent a lot of time talking that change through with our worship leader. He agreed with the switch, and when I asked how he thought the band would react, he said, "They'll use whatever we give them. It's not up to them." He didn't say that with arrogance, but with the understanding that the band is not in charge. As the worship leader, it's incumbent on him to make the good calls; not in a vacuum, but ultimately, it's his call.

So give that a try. And remember, if they continue to resist, you are the one who turns the knobs...