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Monitor engineer Pat Rowe mixing a combination of wedges and IEMs for the current Volbeat tour.

Hybrid Monitor Mixing: Approaches When Using IEMs & Wedges Together

Considerations and techniques to help create a smooth onstage balance and best serve the artist when blending the two elements. (An audio version of this article is also available for download.)

How bands want to hear their performance is a highly personal and subjective choice. Many people now opt for in-ear monitors, enjoying the clarity, immediacy, and relative isolation from venue acoustics, as well as the freedom to be anywhere on the stage and retain a consistent mix.

Others prefer wedges and sidefills because they feel that they play more coherently as a band that way and like hearing the audience acoustically; or they might have had a bad experience with IEMs; or they might simply dislike the feeling of having things in their ears.

But there is a third group of performers who like to have it all – both IEMs and wedges. A band that I’ve worked with for over a decade falls into this category, much to the chagrin of many a show designer. “Can’t we lose the wedges and have a clean stage?” they ask. “They have IEMs – why are you using wedges too?” To which I reply that they’re welcome to raise the idea with the band, but I can tell them from experience how the conversation will go: the wedges will stay.

Getting The Feel Of It

The point of having both for this particular band is that they don’t just want to hear their show, they want to feel it. And not just whatever comes back from the room, but a crisp, punchy, and immediate feel.

Some of them leave both ears in throughout the show but remove one to hear the crowd whilst they’re chatting (I feed audience mics to the ears between songs, but even I must admit that it’s a different energy from the direct connection with their fans).

Others only wear one ear for the entire performance – this, I must stress, is not an approach I recommend, but the habit was set years before my work with them began and it’s what this band member feels comfortable with.

The reason wearing only one ear is inadvisable is easily demonstrated at home: Put just one of your earbuds in and play some music into it at a volume that you find satisfying. Now, without touching that volume, put the other bud in. Loud, isn’t it?! But you were subjecting your solo eardrum to that same volume.

I encourage anyone who suggests trying this approach to do this experiment, and they usually change their mind pretty fast. But for some folks it’s simply not comfortable to wear both ears – and I know I would want to be in my comfort zone if I was performing to a stadium full of people – so we work with it.

Careful Considerations

With the “why” of this hybrid approach explained, let’s move on to the “how.” Here are some techniques I use when mixing both IEMs and wedges together.

First, consider the reasons for using this approach – this will determine how many wedges and/or sidefills are needed, what type, and where to place them. In my example, I’m looking for good general coverage for the purpose of a punchy “feel,” and the singers will be downstage for most of the time.

Therefore, I evenly space eight dual 12-inch wedges, on four mixes, across the front of the stage, and position “stealth” sidefills halfway upstage – two stacks of three mini line array loudspeakers on the ground and angled upwards so that the trajectory of focus is at head height by the time the sound reaches center stage.

In the case of a top-of-the-show “reveal” upstage, I add a pair of wedges up there too. They might only be used for that first song, but if ever there’s a time when an artist wants to feel their show, it’s then. This approach works well for my band as they’re looking for “vibe” rather than having total reliance on the wedges, and we’ve used this design for years; however, when first considering it, I approached the situation from the perspective of “what’s missing?” rather than “what can I add?” (which sums up my whole approach to mixing).

One issue with very mobile performers using wedges is that they have a limited throw upstage – it’s not like a musician that pretty much stays in one spot, these wedges are doing a different job. My humble low-tech solution is to place blocks of wood underneath the back of the wedges to create an angle of throw that remains satisfying for several meters upstage (at which point the sidefills step in). The blocks are also painted black to avoid upsetting the show designers any more than I already have!

How loud do the wedges really need to be? I run hybrid-approach wedges quieter than I do with wedges alone – again, I’m looking to be frugal and add only what’s missing, not throw everything I have at it. My rule of thumb: When I have one ear in and one ear out, and my pack volume at my usual place, does the level and tone feel the same to both ears when I’m on the vocal mic? I then build the music mix underneath that, so that the vocal sits just above it.

How many discrete wedge mixes are needed? With multiple vocalists, I want separate control over the vocal mix according to their stage positions for each song, so I run four mixes across the eight downstage wedges, plus separate mixes for the sidefills and upstage wedges.

However, my music mix stays the same across all loudspeakers, so rather than arduously copy every change I make to every mix, I run a stereo aux solely for the wedge music mix and employ DiGiCo’s clever “aux merge” function to bring it into each wedge send before adding the discrete vocal blends. This allows for maximum mixing speed and convenience, while retaining autonomy across mixes.

What needs to go into the wedge mix? I’m extremely choosy about what goes into any monitor mix. Which inputs are adding useful information, such as pitch and timing, and which are more appropriate for the front of house mix alone?

If you have a lot of hard drive inputs, be discerning about which of them are necessary and which are best left out. Some sounds may be a signature part of a song, and they need to go in. Others, such as distorted sounds and effects, might work in a large PA but can cloud the clarity of a monitor mix without adding anything useful. This goes for any mix, but doubly so when you are working with this hybrid approach.

Also bear in mind that what’s in the wedges doesn’t have to be exactly the same as what’s in the IEMs. Big explosion effects, for example, might add a great vibe to the start of the show in the wedges but create masking in the IEM mix just as someone is about to sing their first note.

Consider splitting channels. I split each vocal mic down two channels – one goes to that vocalist alone, the other goes to the wedges and everyone else. This has two benefits – first, it removes any problems that an EQ boost on a vocal for IEMs might give me in the wedges; and second, it allows me to mute vocal mics when a singer is offstage but keep them live in their own ears, which is important for a sense of security so that they can hear themselves at all times.

Something to be mindful of here is which channel you choose to send to the reverb – I use the IEM one, again so they can hear their own reverb pre-show, and I run that send to themselves pre-fade so that I can have the reverbs on a DCA to the wedges (giving me the ability to duck the reverbs when they’re talking, rather than fully mute them).

Finally, consider working with the FOH engineer in delaying the PA back to the wedges. This can be a useful technique to experiment with any time you’re using wedges, and it’s often particularly helpful in creating a tight, coherent sound on stage with the hybrid approach. Keep in mind that most modern PAs already have a few milliseconds of latency to take into account in your calculations.

I have used this hybrid monitor approach for both IEMs and wedges for many years now. It may not be my own preference, but as monitor engineers we’re there to serve; of course, we can advise, but if it’s what the artist wants, ultimately they are the client.

These techniques help me to create a smooth onstage balance when working this way, and I hope they’ve given you some useful ideas to try in your own mixing. Happy gigging!

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