“Setting up stage monitors” is not on my list of favorite activities, but getting it right (or wrong) has an inordinately large affect on the outcome of the show. Even the best monitor mix is quickly and effectively destroyed by poor monitor deployment. (Or when the guitar player tapes his set list directly over the HF driver.)
In that spirit, here are some monitor setup tips I’ve accumulated over the years. Note that I’m not claiming originality, just sharing what works for me.
If you’re waiting for my unconventional, polarizing, and possibly grumpy assertion, here you go: I find monitor wedges objectionable. There are, of course, the usual issues – bleed, re-entry summation, feedback, elevated stage volume – but my protestations run deeper.
Monitor wedges can erect a physical and psychological barrier between the artist and the audience. This is the sort of thing that begins to bug you once you start paying attention to it. (You’re welcome.) Higher stages are worse – look at photos from the biggest outdoor festivals and you’ll see artists concealed up to the knee.
I’m a realist, so barring in-ear monitors (IEMs), the best I can do is opt for small wedges. My first choice for most applications is a 10 or 12-inch coaxial model. It’s true that the LF response of a small wedge might not be as extended, but I’m just going to end up high-passing the mix anyway so I’m not concerned about getting 45 Hz out of a vocal monitor.
If, for some strange reason, the “sub wash” bleeding from the mains doesn’t give sufficient LF energy on stage, I’ll use side fill subwoofers (hold that thought). Side fills and drum monitors don’t have the aforementioned sightline problem, so if the drummer insists on a refrigerator-sized, horn-loaded monstrosity as a fill, who am I to refuse?
Now that I’ve taken my stand against the evils of giant wedges, let’s look at some practical tips:
— There’s a stronger-than-usual argument for passive loudspeakers when it comes to wedges because the single cable makes setting up faster and easier while keeping stage clutter to a minimum. With active wedges, check out Gepco RunONE cables or a similar product – it’s a single, well-built cable run containing both AC power and XLR drive. The cost is higher but it looks great on stage and simplifies my show, so it gets my vote.
— Aim is critical. As we know, a loudspeaker’s output is loudest on-axis and tapers off as we move off–axis in either plane. Therefore, ONAX needs to be aimed precisely at where we want the sound to go. This would be the artist’s head. Not shoulders, knees and toes.
If the artist’s head is off-axis, more level will be needed to get the same result, which means we then have an even louder beam pointed somewhere else. Getting the aim correct means we have the highest output right where we need it, and also less everywhere else.
ONAX can be found quickly by ear using pink noise. Trying to find it visually can be misleading. At one of his sound seminars, Dave Rat said that he designed the MicroWedge to have a curved front grille, which forces people to aim it by ear rather than visually.
— Pay attention to microphone polar patterns. If you’re placing a wedge directly behind a supercardioid mic, it’s like to produce a headache probably 10 dB sooner than necessary.
— I’m big on presentation. Unlike mains, monitor loudspeakers usually have their backsides to the audience. (How rude!) So I dress the cables upstage, on the artist’s side
— OK, let’s talk side fills. The standard setup – two big, loud full-range fills firing across the stage towards each other – makes up a point destination array, which is just about the worst you can do for ripple variance throughout the coverage area.
As you move towards one source, you move away from the other, and this sea of constantly changing time and phase offsets creates a monster comb filter. The interaction is worst at center stage where the sources meet at equal level, creating a power alley just like the one the mains create out in the house. This floods the lead vocal input with a ton of access LF energy.
An easy fix – flip the polarity on one side. On the sides of the stage, where one fill is dominant, there’s plenty of LF energy for the guitarists and bassist. In the middle, the power alley is canceled out, keeping our lead vocal input clean.
A better side fill placement (other than “back in the truck”) is flown. If the rigging allows, the downward angle can eliminate the troublesome center-stage overlap region by aiming each fill to cover its local area only. This is also a nifty trick to clear the deck for dance-heavy performances.
Beware, though, the evil stepdaughter of the flown side fill: the screwed-to-the-ceiling vocal wedge.
Popular in small, low-ceilinged clubs, this configuration makes it virtually impossible to get any off-axis rejection by a standard cardioid vocal mic. Dear small clubs: keep your monitors on the floor, please.