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Audio Basics: Stage Monitoring Simplified

Sage advice on mixing monitors and the house simultaneously.

By Scott Foulkrod March 16, 2012

Encompassed in today’s live show are several individual shows, for example, light shows, laser shows and more.

It’s not uncommon for each of these independent shows to have its own set of engineers.

The focal point is the band/artist, and they’re the reason all of the other shows are taking place.

And, it should be pointed out that most of these “shows within the show” are presented for the audience.

Good engineers realize that the monitor mix is a show in itself. It’s the only show that the musicians get to hear, and it certainly is the mix that most affects their performance.

Big shows usually have a separate engineer for the monitor mix, but for average shows one valuable individual functions as both the front of house (FOH) and monitor engineer.

To accomplish a good monitor mix, you must understand your particular mixing console; we can, however, examine some basic principles that apply unilaterally.

While working your magic behind the FOH console, most people don’t realize the work you’re doing for the musicians.

The musicians also have to hear the performance, except they usually want to hear something totally different than the house mix.

In fact, many bands have members that each want (or even require) a different mix than another band member. That means multiple mixes, all running at the same time, which can present some challenges to the engineer, because all of these mixes cannot be monitored simultaneously.

Most consoles allow toggling between each of the mixes, allowing you to make changes to each individually. This, of course, depends on what features the console has and how you, as an engineer, decide to accomplish your monitor mix.

Let’s first take a look at some obstacles you may encounter in your equipment.

Snakes, Sends, & Returns
The snake, of course, is the multiple input cable that all of the instruments plug into on the stage. The cable then is plugged into the console to carry the signal from the stage to the mixing console.

The snake also has “returns,” which, as the name implies, route signal from the console back to the stage and musicians.

The amount of returns available will directly affect the amount of signal that can be routed back to the stage. For example, a 24 x 4 snake offers up to 24 pathways to the console from the stage, and four pathways back to the stage from the console.

With four return paths, the possible combinations of mixes are four independent mono mixes, two stereo mixes or one stereo mix and two mono mixes.

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