Monitor mixes are critical for achieving a great sound from a band. The musicians need to hear themselves and other band members clearly so they can lock in and blend well as a group. While there are multiple techniques and approaches for mixing monitors, there are some very basic things you can do to simplify the process and be more effective at practice and sound check.
Develop a Relationship
Before we dive in, let’s look at the big picture. What is the true focus of all ministry? It’s about people.
So I suggest that Sunday morning techs arrive before the band does. Make sure you know what the band needs. Then set up and line check as much as possible before they show up. This way, you’re ready to help the musicians with their individual needs.
When the band is loading in and setting up, take the time to help them and talk with them. If you don’t know them, introduce yourself and learn their names. You can talk about the service that you’re preparing for or life in general. Just like you make connections with audio gear so your sound system functions correctly, connections between you and the musicians are important for making everything run smoothly.
Get Your Baseline Set
After the setup is complete and you are ready to sound check, “zero out” any previous settings before beginning–especially if you haven’t worked with that exact group before. This way, you won’t accidently cause feedback or other loud sounds in the face of the band members. Feedback or unpleasant sounds can break down trust between musicians and tech teams. So make sure you are working carefully.
As you sound check, have each team member play or sing individually as they would during a song. Use that time to make sure you are getting adequate signal, check for any problems, and get a rough EQ setting for each band member. Approach this time as a continuation of the conversation you had with band members as you were setting up. When you have them play individually, call them by their first name and not just “electric 1” or “vocal 2”. Your relationships with others are a critical piece of ministry. Make it personal!
Create a Starting Point
When creating monitor mixes, you need to think like each individual musician. What is important to them? Obviously, they want to hear themselves, but they also need to hear the rhythm of the song.
Here’s a very basic starting point for a general monitor mix. For a drummer, make sure he can hear the bass player, a melodic instrument or two, and the worship leader. You don’t have to fill up his mix with all the back up vocals or other instruments that can make his mix sound busy. As the main rhythmic instrument, he is the cornerstone and doesn’t have to worry as much about everyone else.
Melodic instruments need rhythm such as a kick/snare/bass for timing, the lead vocal, and any major melodic instruments they need to blend with.
Vocalists need the same basic rhythm balance, a few melodic instruments for pitch, and any back up vocalists they are trying to blend with.
Giving everyone this starting mix allows them to get going and gives you something you can tweak later.
After the band starts playing through their material, don’t feel like you’re anchored to the mixing console. Walk on stage and stand with the musicians. If they’re using floor wedges, listen to their mixes as they hear them. Most musicians do not have a technical background so it’s hard for them to communicate exactly what they need or don’t need in their monitors.
Sure, you could take a listen in the headphones at the console, but those headphones create quite a different environment than standing on-stage with a musician. You can hear what may be bleeding from another musician’s wedge, guitar amp, or drum kit and identify a problem much more easily when you are standing next to them.
Be intentional and don’t distract them–especially if you’re asking how you can improve their mix. Allow them to give their input on what they think needs to be modified. Since it can sometimes be hard for a musician to communicate their needs, you may want to listen to the mix and suggest changes on how they might want to modify their mix to get it locked in. This also helps in the process of building trust and relationship. The details are what separates a good mix from a great mix and can help take the worship band from good to great.
Have a System
At some point, you will probably have to address the entire band’s monitor needs. However, you need to be careful how you approach it so it doesn’t end in frustration or disaster. In this situation, I instruct the band to raise their hand and point up or down as I call out different input names. I work my way from left to right across the stage, adjusting each musician’s mix individually, until they are satisfied. This task is much easier if you have already taken the time to walk on stage and hear what each mix sounds like.
Sometimes, it can get reversed and people will start shouting their requests from the stage. This can be challenging–especially if more than one person is talking at the same time or if the musician doesn’t have a microphone. In a situation like this, I suggest you use the leadership that is already in place. The worship leader is responsible for directing them. Have the musicians direct their complaints to the worship leader who can convey them to you one at a time. This can be extremely effective–especially when you are mixing monitors from the front of house position.
Over time, you will get to know individual musicians’ needs and your job will become much easier.
Mixing monitors can be simplified greatly by being relational. Making sure that the lines of communication are open is the most important one thing that you can do as a tech. Supporting, serving, and meeting others’ needs is the most important part of ministry.