Loudspeaker World

Church Sound: Stage Monitoring & Keeping Those Performers Smiling

Simple approaches and techniques to help optimize the situation...

By Jon Baumgartner April 3, 2014

If you’re faced with this situation as a church sound operator, try this at rehearsal: tell the performers that you’re going to shut the monitors off, so at the beginning of the song, they’re only going to hear the sound of the main system.

Then let them know you’re going to slowly bring up the master monitor volume, and to raise their hands when the mix is clearly but gently lending enunciation to the sound they’re hearing from the room.

Assuming the voices and instruments are good quality, in tune and well presented, this is a nirvana situation for most performers. Sound is big and full in the room yet crisply defined by the monitors.

On smaller platforms/risers this method is particularly successful. Once the basic master level is set, tweak and adjust individual levels or do some physical repositioning until all the players and singers can hear everything in balance. The result is very musical and your players and signers will have a lot more fun.

When it comes to multiple monitor mixes, well, I may well get a lot of flack for saying it, but multiple mixes are frequently not necessary, particularly in smaller to mid-sized stage situations.

Players can position themselves so they can all hear each other adequately, and usually, the vocals are most prominent in the monitors while the instruments are far less prominent.

Now, on wide stages/platforms (especially those that are not very deep), multiple monitor mixes might be a good idea. The performers at stage right have a hard time hearing the performers at stage left, and vice versa. Multiple mixes allow them to request sonic information from the other side of the stage in their own mix.

Multiple mixes require separate signal pathways—from the aux on the console/mixer, to the equalizer, to the power amp, to the monitors. As such, it requires more investment in equipment.

Multiple mixes can also be necessary because many performers simply differ on what they prefer the monitor mixes to be. This preference is partially what gives rise to a number of earworn monitors (either wired or wireless) that have a remote control station for each performer to individually adjust the mix to their own liking.

Communication between the performers and sound operator is also vital. Performers must understand that the sound operator is not on stage with them, so if they want monitor sound changes and improvements, they need to tell the operator, and further, to be as specific as possible. Some praise when the monitor sound is good never hurts, either.

Operators, in turn, need to understand that requests and complaints aren’t usually personal, just a desire for improvement and the expression of frustration at a subpar situation. Address each issue with patient attention, and it usually works out.

And don’t be shy about asking performers if they’re happy and comfortable with the monitor sound. This can both head off problems before they start and result in further improvements.

Remember, some performers may be holding their tongues due to less-than-professional operator responses in the past.

Jon Baumgartner is a veteran system designer for Sound Solutions in Eastern Iowa, a pro audio engineering/contracting division of West Music Company.

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