Structured monitor check
You should always ask each musician what they want in their mix before the rehearsal starts.
After you have roughed in those levels on the board, the band should play through one song (unless it is a total disaster, don’t stop).
After the song, each musician should give the soundman direction as to how they would like their mix changed.
Allow the band to play through two to three additional songs before the musicians make any additional requests.
This forces the musicians to be precise in their monitor requests and also provides the soundman with an opportunity to tweak the house mix.
After two to three songs, each musician can once again (in an orderly fashion) ask for adjustments in the monitor mix.
After these adjustments, the musicians will have to live with the mix. Forget about the monitors at this point and focus on the house mix.
An additional note, the soundman should not adjust the master gain on any channel (except for an emergency) after the completion of the first song.
All adjustments need to be made using the faders (for house sound) and the aux sends (for monitors). Assuming a pre-fade auxiliary, monitors levels will not change when the channel faders are moved.
7. Build the mix from the bottom up
From the kick and bass guitar foundation of the mix I favor, build the mix by adding additional instruments. If you have already done your sound check with the end mix in mind this is a quick and simple process.
Once I have all of the inputs up and going, it is time to give a critical listen. My initial judge of a mix is based on my ability to identify each instrument individually.
During this process, I often leave the sound booth and sit in the audience seating area.
I never try to stray too far from the booth, just in case there is something urgent to be addressed like a vocalist setting the wireless handheld down on a monitor wedge…
Getting out of the booth helps clear my mind. It allows me to sit down, close my eyes and really listen to what is going on. If I can identify each instrument, I am 95% of the way there.
I can now move into “Finesse mode” and work more with compressors, gates and effects. A word of caution here, once you are at 95% there is a tendency (at least in my case) to “overmix” and end up once again with less than desirable result.
A good sound engineer that has conducted a proper sound check and worked with the mix during rehearsal does not need to be constantly “fiddling “with the mix.
8. Affirm the musicians through your attitude
Most of what a soundman does and thus how he is perceived comes from his attitude toward musicians.
A worship leader that I work with on a regular basis once told me that he can tell when we have a great mix going by what we are doing in the booth.
He said, “If I look up and see the people in the booth looking relaxed, having fun and worshipping along with us, I know the mix is sounding great.”
I have not asked him if seeing us looking confident allowed him play more confidently, but I would bet the answer would be absolutely!
Also try to make it a habit to give a word of praise and/or encouragement to at least one of the musicians after the service. Even if it just a “hey, thanks for playing today” doing so allows the musicians know that you notice and care that they are there.
9. Re-check with musicians that all is well
During rehearsal, after you have the mix down, take time to walk the stage. There are a couple of good reasons to do this.
First, you will hear what the musicians are hearing and will get a better feel of how to preset the level and mix for the monitors ahead of time.
Secondly, use this time to ask the musicians if all is well to show that you care. Are their monitor levels and mix correct? Have they changed the battery in their pickup in the last two years? Do they have enough light to read the music? etc.