“Downward” or “subtractive” mixing describes the idea of “less is more” in monitoring mixing, and this is one technique that applies well to both wedges and earphones.
So when we have an artist continually asking for more and more level from various sources in their ears, we should instead turn other things down.
The artist still gets the balance adjustment they desire, but without an overall volume increase.
And this is also a better approach when it comes to the science of proper gain staging in our mixing consoles and in-ear products (wired or wireless).
Mono Vs Stereo Mixes
Mono wireless personal monitor mixes can be made to work successfully.
But those that use their systems in stereo eventually discover that there is a world of increased monitoring flexibility available to them. A mono wireless personal monitor mix means that everything is heard “dead center.”
That is, above the head in the virtual center of the sound image. A stereo wireless personal monitor mix allows the placement of sources to be panned across the stereo space “in” the head.
Here, various sources are intentionally panned in different places across the image for the purpose of “un-mixing” them.
It is interesting to watch and see that musicians can certainly (whether consciously or not) train themselves to “point” their listening to different directions in their head, depending on what sound they want to focus on at any moment. It is important that the user’s “me” signal stay in the center/top of their head.
Say a musician has his acoustic guitar and the worship leader vocal both placed center in his head (good), and the electric guitar is panned to 11:00 in his ears, the keyboards might be panned to 1:00, and some other sources might be panned to 10:00, or 2:00, and so on.
While we would usually not do this for a “full mix” for the audience, this “un-mixing” by stagger panning can be very effective for monitoring.
One very good worship musician once stated:
“When running an IEM system in mono, I hear the mix dead center. That is a problem when I need to hear kick, snare, overhead drum mics, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitars, click, percussion, back-ground vocals, the worship leader, a choir, loops, etc…. I have to choose 3-5 things to monitor and everything else takes the back seat…”
(He just described clouding from a full mix)
“...when I use IEMs in stereo, I have a much larger sound field to use. I’ll pan background vocals slightly left, the worship leader slightly right, acoustic around 30 percent right, piano around 30 percent left, kick and bass dead center, overhead drum mics around 50 percent right, and so on…”
(And there was his idea of stagger panning)
“With a stereo mix, things don’t compete as much… In mono, the only way to get more room is to increase the gain, which takes my mix louder, whereas a stereo mix allows me to take my mix wider. In fact, I am able to use 25-35 percent less volume with a stereo mix!”
-Andrew Catron, Associate of Worship, Lee Park Baptist Church
And here is a quote on this topic from a full-time worship monitor mixer:
”...I’ve found that creating a stereo mix with slight spread of sources with the artist’s own voice or instrument dead center allows me to keep levels under control. I also get a lot less of the ‘more me’ requests with this approach.”
-Scott Fahy, Lead Audio Engineer, Living Word Christian Center
While Catron has a good working audio knowledge, he is a musician first, and it is interesting that he sorted out the above thoughts on his own while transitioning from a mono to a stereo wireless personal monitor mix.
He was mixing his own ears at this time with an Aviom A16II personal mixer. Fahy is at the other end of the spectrum—he is not a worship musician but a veteran audio engineer, and usually mixes many wireless personal monitors (on a dedicated console) in a complex worship environment.
Both of these men, from opposite ends of the spectrum in very different worship environments, seem convinced that stereo wireless personal monitors using stagger panning makes for easier monitoring, happier users, and lower volume.
Hopefully you’ve fund this introduction to wireless monitoring useful. Stay tuned for next week when we’ll take a look at part two of this series on how to achieve the perfect mix for wireless monitors.
For more worship audio tips and techniques, go to Sennheiser.