Singing for Heaven Can Be Hell: Not Hearing Yourself

Singing for Heaven Can Be Hell: Not Hearing Yourself
Darrell Smith deals with overcoming common hurdles in worship environments.

You can break through the common technical challenges musicians face at church. Some of them you can handle yourself – some of them will require buy-in from the technical team.

In part one we discussed what to do if the band is too loud. Now it’s time to tackle the next challenge.

Challenge: You Can’t Hear Yourself

When it’s loud and you’re struggling to hear yourself, vocalists tend to push their vocals and fatigue their voices. Whether or not you’re rocking your new musician’s ear-plugs or in-ears, follow these steps to dial in your monitor mix to ensure you can hear yourself.

1. Get what you need from your monitor mix

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A pitch reference such as from piano or acoustic guitar along with tempo and an arrangement references can help performance

There are 3 things most musicians require from their monitor mix to perform their best:

  • A pitch reference (piano/acoustic guitar)
  • A timing reference (kick drum and hi-hat, or acoustic guitar)
  • An arrangement reference (worship leader’s vocal)

You will also need to hear the other vocalists so you can harmonize and choose when to come in and out. You will be tempted to want your vocal louder than the lead vocal in the monitor, but it is better to match the levels instead.

2. Get your stage monitor and music stand into optimal position

  • Figure out if your microphone is Cardioid or SUPER Cardioid. The Shure SM58 is the most common vocal microphone. It’s cardioid, which means you’ll want your monitor directly in line with and behind the mic. A Shure Beta58 would be the next most popular – it has a blue band around the windscreen. It is SUPER Cardioid, which means you want to position your monitor 30 degrees to one side. (When a tripod stand is standing with one leg pointed straight at you, the other two will show you where the 30-degree spot is).
  • Position your music stand in such a way that you can see the entire stage monitor – this way, the sound coming out of the monitor will reach your ears unimpeded.

3. Sound Check For Success

The purpose of a sound check is to ensure that each musician has what they need (either by hearing it acoustically, or in the monitor mix) so they can be comfortable and do the job they’ve set out to do.

Have the band stumble through a song while you get to work on your monitor mix.

You can’t set monitor levels while instruments play in isolation. We all need musical context to know how much of an instrument we’ll need in a monitor. Have the band stumble through a song while you get to work on your monitor mix.

  • Start by having only your pitch, timing and arrangement references playing. No one is singing at this point. If you can hear what you need acoustically, without putting anything in your monitors, then go with it!  Otherwise, ask your sound person to put a little of whatever you can’t hear in your monitor.
  • Next, get the lead vocal going, and then have the sound person bring your voice up in the monitor mix until you match the level of the lead vocal when you’re 2~3” from the mic singing at 80% capacity.  Now listen and double check to make sure you can hear everything you need.
  • Ask the band to play a loud song too.
  • If applicable, play a song you’re taking the lead on, to make sure your references (pitch, time, arrangement) are still loud enough.

So there you have it! With these tips, you will be a step closer to an audio set-up that allows you to sing well and contribute your best to worship.

Read last week’s article: Sometimes Singing For Heaven Can Be Hell


Darrell Smith Bio

Darrell Smith is the Owner and Principle Designer at Kungpow Production. Kungpow is on a mission to remove the technical barriers to achieving your creative vision. If you’d like his help getting your worship team’s stage volume under control, you can find him at Kungpow Production.

Darrell’s gear list for recording vocals