I’ve often joked that my funeral ceremony will include a small monitor wedge next to the casket, with a sign on my chest that reads “I’d like a little more of me in the monitor.”
It’s a way of finding humor in a comment that sound mixers hear all too often.
On a more serious note, watch out! Trying to accommodate “more of me” can quickly provoke an endless string of errors that can turn the strongest mix master into a blithering idiot by the time the night’s over.
This is especially true if you end up mixing both monitors and front of house for shows, which is often the case in my world.
Case in point. Some years back I was asked to mix a 4-piece band, the usual things – vocals, drums, bass, guitar and a couple of monitor mixes up front.
Pretty simple, right? An hour or so later, a few extra not-quite-expected musicians rolled in. Another vocal, acoustic guitar, horns, and oh yeah, another guitar amp.
“We need another wedge mix for the new vocal and acoustic, and we’re going to move this over here and put that mic over there…” And voila, the nightmare began. What used to be mix 1 was now mix 4, and 3 was 2 – or was it 2 was 3?
Up came the guitar amps, accompanied by requests to make them louder in the wedges. No, not this wedge, that wedge over there.
And then, feedback! Every head in the place turned my way. I had lost control of the mix. The band was frustrated, and I was frustrated.
How can we avoid this dilemma? It’s not rocket surgery or brain science, or in other words, not all that hard.
It starts with the artist(s) understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, meaning you should explain it to them at the outset. You don’t have to be a control freak, and allowing each artist to express their wants and needs is imperative. (One at a time, please.)
Assuming the band arrives early enough, give yourself time to set things up during sound check to avoid hands and fingers going every which way – and from everybody – during the show. More of me in this one, and half of him over there, and not so much guitar over on that one (and hold the mayo).
Minor adjustments during a show should be expected, of course. As performers’ ears become accustomed to the SPL on stage, more or less level will be needed.
Nevertheless, the artist needs to be informed (gently if possible) that jacking up the backline amp “so I can hear my tone” only makes the situation more difficult for the whole band (and the sound person, not that this is about me…).
It’s important to have a method to apply during setup. Here are some things that have proven to help.
Use those pre-fade switches so monitor levels aren’t bobbing up and down with the channel faders. Use like wedges with like amplifiers with like power levels (if possible). Determine the locations of the wedges, and be ready explain to the performers the downside of moving a wedge into a microphone pattern.
Keep the master fader down. Dial in the wedges so stage volume is where you want it to be, and then bring up front of house.
Use cardioid microphones (preferably your own). If the performers insist on using theirs, be sure to know the specs. One not-so-great mic on stage, especially in the wrong spot, can really ruin your day. Label all mixes, and keep them organized on stage and at the console.
And remember: someone needing more of something on stage is not an emergency. Think it through, find your controls, make small adjustments.
All of it allows you to relax into your job and focus on delivering the audience the best possible front of house mix.
Greg Stone has worked in live sound since 1976 and is the owner of Hill Country Ears Sound Company (www.hillcountryears.com) in south Texas.