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Flying Solo On The Front Lines

Key issues in handling house and monitor sound simultaneously -- and a whole lot more...

Are you a Lone Ranger of the audio world? I’ve been one for more than 20 years, working as an independent practitioner of live sound.

Lone Rangers face the common scenario of ever-increasing responsibilities from advancing the load in and out, to pinning the stage, handling musicians and tour managers, corporate clients and eager brides. All with no A2 or enough hands or help – just a steady schedule of shows ranging from music to corporate events to weddings to comedy shows, plus that children’s theater show thrown into the mix at the last moment (of course).

We strive to make the nearly impossible possible, all while flying solo as the promoter, client and entertainers put the squeeze on our time and patience. The aim of this column is to share what I’ve learned over the past two decades in hopes of helping fellow Lone Rangers better deal with the challenges that lay before us day after day. And while these challenges are unfortunately quite common, they also present a wonderful opportunity to learn some powerful fundamentals.

The author plying his trade on a Yamaha QL5 console at Buckle-Up Festival in Cincinnati.

Future topics will range from gear and maintenance to troubleshooting and organization, as well as advancing shows, client relations, work flow strategies, wireless challenges and of course, mixing tips and tricks. But first let’s start with some workflow strategies for mixing monitors (wedges and in-ear monitors) from front of house, in addition to stage techniques to maximize monitoring success.

Stop The Hacking: Output EQ

Imagine this common scene: a singer is playing acoustic guitar through a direct box (DI) and a wedge, providing foldback for both her voice and guitar. The acoustic guitar is feeding back in the wedge and/or just plain sounds bad. You start hacking away at the mix graph, yet now her vocal in the wedge sounds horrible. The problem is that you’re trying to solve one problem while making another worse.

A classic Y-Split XLR cable splitter.

Look to the output EQ as the tool for making the wedge sound natural, not the input. This also serves as a quick test to know if something is wrong with the monitor, crossover or amplifier. Once comfortable, you now have a reference – when something doesn’t sound right, you know it’s the source.

Mixing For Two Bosses

A sole mix engineer is responsible for providing a mix to two important groups: the audience and the performers. The audience is hearing the house mix through the main PA. The performers hear the monitor mix through wedges and possibly IEMs, both of which are completely different from the PA.

When confronted with a single channel strip for the singer’s main vocal and another for her guitar, how do you manage making both sound good through two or three completely different loudspeakers? Split. Think of yourself as a hybrid engineer. In the traditional live audio world, both house and monitor engineers have a split of all inputs. But as a Lone Ranger, you’re not that fortunate; it’s all you.

Whirlwind IMP and Radial Engineering ProMS2 isolated splitters.

But why can’t there be the same flexibility and separation? There can be, by splitting inputs to separate channels on the console, one for the house mix and the other for the monitor mix. Be sure to un-assign the “monitor channels” from the stereo bus. The monitor sends will come from the “monitor channels” and not the house channels. The parametric nature of channel EQ and its accompanying high-pass filter are potent tools for monitor mixing.

This approach provides independent control over each input for each type of output/loudspeaker. It can be done at the desk or at the snake head using simple XLR “Y” cables or a proper isolated splitter such as a Radial Engineering ProMS2 or Whirlwind IMP splitter. (Both are available in 1 x 2 and 1 x 3 configurations). Another useful tool for this purpose is the Klark Teknik Square ONE, a unit providing a 8-in x 24-out split.

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