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My Monitor, My Pet II

Do you have total comfort when it comes to hearing your voice on stage? Michael Majeran shares how you can get it.

Hearing yourself properly in your monitors should be just as high a priority as having the right mic.

If you’ve done enough gigs, you know what I am saying is right—it is absolutely essential that you hear yourself clearly in the “mix” of what is coming at your ears on stage.

Last week we looked at some basic principles of monitoring. Today we present a simple check-list that you can use to avoid some common monitoring problems.

(And, yes, I will also reveal Me, Myself and I’s unique monitoring system).

Your Monitoring Checklist

As soon as you can check that you’ve covered these areas, then you’ve mastered the first level of monitor know-how.

Mic Capsule and Monitoring. How do you hold your mic? Keep your hands away from the capsule. If you cover the back or side of the capsule you can seriously increase the level of resonance of frequencies responsible for feedback. Never put your thumb between your mouth and the capsule!

Mic Placement and Monitoring. The closer your mic is to your mouth, i.e. touching your lips, the the higher the sound pressure will be on the mic—increasing the chance that the sound will become distorted. Too far away and the low level of sound causes high gain and feedback. When singing full voice, the capsule should be positioned to avoid these extremes, usually just an inch or two from your mouth. If you aren’t controlling this on stage, it’s really worth practicing at home.

Your Position and the Wedges. Standing in the front of a wedge is not always is a good idea. Many mics have some audio sensitivity behind (or at the side) of the capsule –see the VC Guide to Mic Pic Up Patterns. Positioning your wedge monitors at an angle usually helps—just experiment. In a typical situation you should be at least 3 feet away from the monitor otherwise you will not hear it properly. Try to also keep at least 5 feet away from the monitors of other musicians. Do not put anything (like a music stand) between your ears and monitors. If you use two wedges, make sure they are are positioned at angles (usually 120 degrees). For more on this area, check out VoiceCouncil’s important article on mics and how they pick-up sound… Your Mic Habits – Naughty or Nice?

Try a Close Field Monitor. In addition to usual monitoring systems you can use a close field monitor such as TC-Helicon’s VoiceSolo. They are mountable on the mic stands. They are very close to your ear and they don’t have to be loud. You amplify and adjust only your voice. They are very small so you can travel with them easily. As they don’t produce much outside sound, this is a very good solution for some more acoustic, subtle performances.

Try an In-Ear Monitor. Every vocalist needs to try out good quality in-ear monitoring (with a custom made mould). But, be careful: cheap models can disappoint. Avoid mono-in ears as they make impossible the ability to differentiate between your voice and some noisy instruments (go for stereo). Some models allow you to control your balance between your voice and other members of your band. Secondly, the in-ears should have a good quality (at least 2-way) driver. Otherwise they will not pass all the necessary frequencies you need to hear in order for you to be able to keep the sound level down (and protect your ears).

Use Key Terms with the Engineer. It’s always a good idea to improve your communication with the sound engineer watching your monitors. After all, if the engineer doesn’t understand what you are talking about, she/he can’t help. Maybe you have to learn some terms in order to get what you need – see last week’s article.

A Unique Solution

On-stage noise is a challenge with any band, but it seems more so for our dynamic a cappella work.

We have a lot of noise with harmonizers, doublers, distortion and beat boxing. If we were to use wedges, our mics would catch the signal from each other.

Our monitoring system is based on a simple idea: singers need total comfort in hearing what they are doing on stage—especially if they sing a cappella.

In setting out to get the very best monitoring system, we were aiming at two principles:

* The quality of the sound must be the best we can get.

* The system must be wireless so our bodies are free to move wherever they need to.

So here is what Me, Myself and I have done:

We have a computer with a multi-channel sound card and mixing software. It is a custom made rack mount, but not essentially different from a Carillion, laptop or even just a digital mixer.

Using software such as Ableton Live, we create three independently processed mixes sent to three separate wireless transmiters and then to singers bodypacks—in this case it’s a very popular Sennheiser EW300.

For real time mixing/controlling we can use little MIDI controllers that stand next to us on stage. For each song we can use a different program; we can also save any changes at any time or record the whole performance whenever we like.

There are many advantages to this system: each of us has an independent signal from everyone on stage and we can adjust it freely the way we need. We can also change any parameter without disturbing each other.

My Monitor, My Pet

If you aren’t satisfied with your current monitoring it’s time to rethink things. After all, you need to make your monitoring system your pet, a comfortable and fun part of your life as a vocalist.

I suggest beginning by noting all the devices between your voice and the monitoring sound. Then, track this signal and find out where the weak points are.

The key question is: what causes your hearing discomfort on stage and when does this happen?

There are many resources for you on this quest: re-read this series, talk to a friendly sound engineer, experiment with different setups and eliminate some of the unhelpful practices we’ve mentioned.

Remember: the first step to improve you singing is improving your hearing.

Michael Majeran is a member of the renowned vocal a cappella group, Me Myself and I. He also has rich experience as a singer, producer and composer. An alumnus of RCM London and WAM Wroclaw (Poland), he’s sung solo operatic parts as well as experimental and jazz a cappella music. He composes and produces music for television and film. Michael is also a noted vocal teacher and coach having worked in the Royal College of Music Teaching Service in London and with various music schools and choirs. Michael’s singing and jazz guitar work sees him constantly on the move all over Europe.

*Written by Michael Majeran in conversation with Gregory A. Barker

Useful Links

Me, Myself and I

On YouTube

Attack of the Killer Monitors

VoiceCouncil’s Brief Guide to Mic Pick-Up Patterns

  • Hi Michael,

    This is a lovely follow up to your last article “My Monitor, My Pet – Part 1.” I love the monitoring checklist – great advice for any singer at any level. My favorite part of it is “Use key terms with the Engineer.” No doubt! How often are we at the mercy of the house engineer…being his/her friend and discovering how this individual currently is running the monitors + understanding key hand signals will do wonders to ensure a great performance and monitor mix that you can be happy with. An engineer can make or break us so it's best to be firm but respectful when dealing with these unique minds. They'll love ya' in the long run for it. If you're using specialized vocal gear (like TC products) be sure to let them know what you're doing ahead of time…this will also help to eliminate and embarrassing feedback at the beginning of the show. It also doesn’t hurt to show up to the club a few days before your gig, meet the engineer, and give him a CD of your band, in order to get him comfy with what you’ll be doing live + it'll give you a good lay of the land!

    Something else we always want to be abreast of is mic type as well as technique – great advice about keeping the fingers and hands off of the capsule – huge feedback mishaps happen here. All too often I notice rap artists will cup the capsule and create a nightmare for front of house. Also, treat the house gear as you would your own…that stuff’s expensive and you may feel “rebellious” by throwing your mic on the ground to make a statement…unfortunately…you run the risk of having the engineer engage the suck knob for any future performances if you trash his/her gear.

    Mic choice is huge as well. I encourage any singer to go to the local music store and try out their array of vocal mics…each voice is different so find one that resonates with you. Don't just be handed a Beta 58 and sent on your merry way :) Granted, it's the age old workhorse microphone, but the beta series first came onto the scene around 1989. A lot has happened since then. My first vocal mic was an EV 757 then a Beta 58. I find, being a crooning tenor, that the 58 is far too boomy and susceptible to feedback and added noise given its omni-directional pattern. I swear by the SM 87A hand held, but I've tried a lot of different mics and find this to be the best fit for my voice. It's powerful and has a long, cone-shaped, pattern which lends itself really well to good mic technique.



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