Study Hall

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Happy Time In Monitorland? Getting Your Stage Together

It's a much lighter load with homework and good work habits

A concert sound system is, in reality, two completely separate sound systems, joined at the hip by a split snake. Each system requires a skilled engineer, but the skill-sets between the two differ vastly.

The thing that baffles me is how ill regarded the position of monitor engineer is among my brethren. It can be easily argued and defended that the monitor engineer works twice as hard as everyone else on the crew, unless he/she is lucky enough to have a stage tech to assist. But more often than not, the monitor engineer is the stage tech.

Too many in our business regard this job as a lackey post and completely devoid of glamour. Think again. The show – any show – is first about the audience interacting with the artist(s) they paid good money to hear and see.

The monitor engineer’s foremost job is to make musicians comfortable and happy on stage, and if the musicians are happy, they’re quite likely to deliver their best performance. But if they’re unhappy, they won’t play as well and the performance is lessened – regardless of the front-of-house engineer and/or how good the house system sounds.

A heavy burden is on the shoulders of the monitor engineer, but it’s a much lighter load with homework and good work habits. The following tips and suggestions are the result of experience, sometimes better known as “learned by doing it wrong the first time.”

These guidelines are offered to help the monitor engineer become a best friend of musicians, furthering their performances. Be sure their faces light up when they arrive at a venue and see you awaiting them!

Advancing the show
Talk with the band’s engineer, manager or leader. Confirm every detail of their requirements. Surprises are no fun. Ask for a stage plot and input list, or make one from the information they give you. (More on these vital points is available here.)

Find out exactly what time the band should arrive so that you can allow enough time to set up and be ready. Calculate how long it takes you to set up your system – and add 30 minutes to that for the unexpected.

Lights always go in first and out last! It’s an important point to always keep in mind if a third party is providing the lighting rig. Not being ready for the band is the epitome of unprofessionalism – and it’s inexcusable.

Note: The stage plot is almost never accurate, even when you’ve confirmed it with the band. But it serves as a useful starting place. I usually wait until a week or so before the show to confirm accuracy. And this still doesn’t preclude the artist making a change the night before a show.

Stage set-up
First, determine how many mixes are needed and then set up the monitors and cable them. Always run cable from the amp rack to the monitor, leaving the slack tucked neatly beside or behind the monitor for future relocation purposes (more on this topic later). 

Drums are usually the first place to start with a split snake, but choosing locations requires careful planning.

Then determine where AC drops will be needed, lay those out, and ditto subsnakes. Don’t forget to consider any opening acts and how their needs will affect the stage layout.

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The stage should now be ready for microphones. Consult your input list, decide how many of each kind of mic stand is needed (tall boom, short boom, straight) and assemble them.

Determine how many of which mics (and DIs) are required, apply them to the stands and position them on stage according to your stage plot.

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