To put it bluntly, if your monitor mix sucks, very likely, your performance is going to suck.
I’m sure you’ve all read Bill Gibson’s 19th November post on crucial headphone mixes.
It’s not a big leap to cross this over into the live monitoring field.
Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules on what you need in a monitor mix.
What you want to hear is extremely subjective, dependent on the type of music, where you are on stage and therefor no one can tell you what you want to hear.
But the on-stage mix needs to create a vibe. You, as the artist, have to feel good in your environment, so the monitor balance should reflect what the band sounds like.
As a singer you may want a tad of drums to keep the pulse going, some solid bass to pitch to, perhaps your own acoustic guitar or some keyboards.
It’ll be very likely that the amps on stage are loud enough for you, so you may not want to be drowned in loads of distorted and effected guitars that could potentially throw your pitching off.
Who’s In Charge of the Monitor Mix?
This will most likely be the monitor engineer, more often than not, this will be the extremely unlucky Front Of House Engineer who has been forced to set up your monitor mixes from Front Of House.
And when you’re doing gigs where you cart your own P.A. with you, it will be you!
It takes a special breed to be a great monitor engineer; you really need to know your gear, the acoustics you’re dealing with every night and your artists.
I have the greatest respect for these guys and gals. If you find a good monitor mixer, hang on to them—and do not let go!
They will make or break your performance. And what’s better than to have the person who controls what you hear, right next to you on stage?
The best way to go about getting a good monitor mix in any situation is to COMMUNICATE.
We engineers can hazard a guess as to what you want to hear, but we’re not clairvoyants.
If you need more or less of something in your mons, all you have to do is ask. And ask nicely.
We’re all doing our job, we’re all under a certain amount of pressure and to some extent, we all suffer from pre gig jitters.
If we mess up, the artist isn’t happy, the performance will suffer, the audience won’t be too pleased and this roller coaster will domino straight back to the crew.
But back to asking things nicely. It’ll always help if you have a set of clear signals to ask for something.
These signals can be anything. A nod up for more, down for less. Point at the instrument you want less or more of with the up or down gesture. I’ve seen guitars pointing up and down, drum sticks in the air. The list is endless. And the middle finger is only allowed if you’re holding a plectrum!
You can also wait until a song is finished and ask for what you need or simply stroll over to the monitor desk.
I have seen all kinds of obscenities uttered, I’ve seen mic stands thrown and so on; the only thing this achieves is that you piss off your crew and they will do anything to get back at you.
I can’t stress the communication angle enough—especially when you’re in a venue where the FOH engineer has to provide monitor mixes from out front.
A lot of the times the line of sight is not optimal and the FOH usually does not have a listen wedge where they can hear what you hear.
Anything you need, ask.
A Happy Crew = A Happy Artist.