[Musicians] Interactions with sound tech (esp. setting monitor mix)

James Saxe via Musicians musicians at lists.sharedweight.net
Thu May 14 14:07:32 PDT 2015

Dear musicians,

I have what might seem like more of a sound-tech question
than a musician's question, but I'm interested in musicians'
perspectives on it, so I'm asking it here.  My apologies if
anyone thinks I'm going off topic for the list.

The question is:  What order of doing things, and what manner
of interaction between sound tech and musicians, do you find
most effective and efficient and pleasant for getting the
monitor mix set in a way that makes you happy?

Here's some more detail that may clarify what I'm asking
about in case the short form above seems too vague and general.

Let's say that we've got everything wired together and powered
on and that I've got the pre-amp (a/k/a "gain", "trim", or
"sensitivity") knobs on all the channels set to compensate for
the fact that not all mics and pick-ups are equally "hot" and
that some instruments may be fundamentally quieter than others
and would be overwhelmed in a purely acoustic setting.  Now I
(in the sound tech role) want to figure out how much of each
channel to put into the monitor mix in order to make you happy.
Possibly some EQ adjustments will also be needed, but even
leaving that aside, there are still lots of different ways I
could proceed, and some could be much better at keeping you
happy than others.  For example:

    * Would you rather set monitor levels with the house levels
      already up (which is the realistic condition in which
      you'll be playing)?  Or would you rather get the monitor
      levels set first and then, if necessary, do some fine
      tuning after the house speakers come up?  [Assume to
      start that interference with a newcomers' session isn't 
      an issue, but feel free also to add how you'd like the
      sound tech to cope if it is an issue.]

    * Would you like to start from some guess at the monitor
      mix (say, all instruments about equally loud, or a
      monitor mix that parallel the house mix except for maybe
      cutting instruments that are especially load on stage
      [e.g., piano]) and then tweak from there?  Or would you
      rather start with the monitor master volume knob set to
      some medium level but monitor feeds from all channels
      completely off, and then bring the channels up one at
      a time?  And if the latter, do you have a preferred
      order (e.g., lead melody instrument first)?

    * Would you rather start by having everyone play at once?
      Or would you rather have people play one at a time to
      get the initial mix set, then play all together to see
      whether any adjustments are needed?

For a band that uses multiple monitor mixes, there are even
more possibilities:  start by working on one monitor mix at
a time?  start by working on one instrument at a time (in
all monitors)?  start by setting each musician's instrument(s)
one at a time in his/her own monitor mix, and then ...?  Of
course once the dance gets going, all the monitors will be
on, and you (musician) may be hearing some of what's coming
out of a nearby band-mate's monitor as well as your own (and
sound from the house).  If monitors need to be moved or turned
to keep you from getting blasted by someone who likes to hear
a lot of him/herself, that's best discovered during the sound

In all these scenarios, there's the question of how to
communicate your needs to the sound tech ("I'm hearing [too
much/too little] of [myself/someone else] through my monitor
[someone else's monitor].") and vice versa ("OK, now can I
hear just the guitar, please?").  I'm most interested in the
situation where the mixing board is on the lip of the stage
and it's *not* one of those remote-controled models that
would let the sound tech make a series of adjustments on a
tablet while standing on stage beside one of the musicians.
So what do you like to do about that?  Obviously everything's
easiest during the sound check, when you have the liberty to
play a little, stop, talk with the sound tech, let the sound
tech make adjustments, play a little more, etc.--a liberty
you don't have if there are still some changes needed after
the dance starts.


Obviously any routine might need to be adapted as issues
arise, but I'd still be interested in learning people's first
preference about how the routine of setting the mix would go
(from a musician's perspective) in cases where it doesn't
go off into some trouble-shooting side-track or something.

And I'm interested in hearing from multiple people, since part
of my goal is to get an idea of which preferences are pretty
widely held and which are variable from musician to musician.
Of course there's a lot of variation among musicians in how
much they know about operating sound gear, whether they're
able to play and have a conversation at the same time,
whether they have gear that gives them control over their own
monitoring (and know how to use it), whether their band
configuration allows someone to leave the stage and listen in
the back of the hall or stand by the board and offer comments
to the sound tech, etc.  I imagine some of those differences
might affect your answers to my questions.

If you've read all this, thanks for your patience, and thanks
for whatever thoughts you care to share.


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