Setting up a Worship Band Monitor Mix

Ever have problems with stage volume that’s just too loud? Combating sound issues from performers who can’t hear themselves play—much less think—can be tough.

How many times have you pulled down the master faders to (–)infinity at FOH, and the sound coming off the stage was still so loud you knew you were going to get a visit from the head deacon or usher before the first chorus?

Or how about the worship leader who leads from the piano? His complaint is he can’t hear himself, but he has the high freq section of the monitor aimed at the piano, and the woofer is the only thing aimed at his ears.

The monitor gets turned up and blasts the soundboard of the piano, which is picked up by the piano mic, which gives you a nice 55-gallon drum sound (true story). The piano has a muddy sound in the monitor, no definition, gets turned up (because they can’t hear) and drowns out the worship leader’s voice. Now the vocal needs to be turned up, resulting in a mix that no one is happy with. Not to mention the sound tech must mix over this roar.

The sound mixer has a few options:

1. Raise the overall house volume level to get on top of the stage noise 2. Don’t put any piano in the house mix because there is enough piano volume coming off the stage 3. Touch the knob and smile

Not very good options.

How many times have you pulled the master faders down to (–)infinity and the sound coming off the stage was still so loud you knew you were going to get a visit from the head deacon or usher before the first chorus?

The purpose of this article is not to be condescending, or to start a conflict between stage performers and the sound/media team, but to educate all involved about a few laws of physics that we all have to obey. Many sound problems that are a constant weekly battle can be fixed without spending a ton of money.

Examine your monitor system

The first thing we need to do is take a comprehensive look at your monitor system.

Are you mixing monitors from the Front of House (FOH) mix position, a dedicated monitor console, or onstage personal monitor mixers?

If you are mixing from FOH, make sure your aux sends are “pre-fader”. This means all adjustments happen before the fader and any fader adjustments will not affect your aux mix. A “postfader” aux means that any adjustment that you make, EQ or fader, will affect the aux level. This will give you an inconsistent monitor mix and an unhappy musician because the mix is always changing.

Make sure that your floor wedges are pointing at the musician’s ears. Sometimes wedges are pointing at knees or the ceiling. Be aware of the coverage pattern of the horn. Do you have too many people sharing a monitor?

Have you “rung out” the monitors for feedback?

Start the mix with a clean slate

Many times rehearsals will start with the same mix that ended with last week’s service. The problem is there were three other services and other musicians on stage and you are just compounding problems. Let’s start out with a clean slate by “zeroing” out the mixer.

Now let’s hold that thought for a moment. I would NEVER recommend that you start this new mix 15 minutes before service time. We need a comprehensive sound check before and during rehearsal. Having said that, coordinate this undertaking with your Music Director/Worship Leader. They will appreciate your concern for their mix.

Now let’s get back to our clean slate. “Zero Out” the mixer by turning off all of the aux sends.

The quickest and most efficient way I have found to do a sound check is to run a chorus of the most upbeat song in the set list. Remember to take into account the volume all of the acoustic instruments (piano, drums) will make, not to mention the electric guitar amps, before you turn up any monitor.

I have my band play a chorus with no monitors just to hear what kind of level we are generating before we add monitors.

Then I start with the rhythm section, beginning with the drummer, going through the levels of each of the instruments: bass, electric, keys, lead vocal, until the drummer is happy with his mix.

If I am the worship leader I coordinate with the sound person on my mic. If I am the soundman, I will use a talkback mic and communicate with the musician on every change I am making.

If I have the luxury of a monitor engineer, I am on stage with the musician using hand signals with the monitor engineer.

Listen from the performers’ perspective

I always recommend sound people walk out on stage, especially if they are mixing wedges, to hear exactly what the musician is hearing. Be sure and listen to each monitor. Different brand monitors are going to sound different. Cuing the mix up in a headphone is not an accurate representation, unless you are mixing “in-ear monitors”

This approach has always been successful for me in the worship setting. It lets the musician know the sound tech cares about what their mix sounds like. It is very frustrating for a musician on stage to need something in their mix, or have a problem, and the soundman behind the board never moves from behind it.

I move then to the bass player, then electric, then keys. Usually during the rehearsal musicians will asks for changes and adjustments will be made. Before we stop I always like to run the upbeat opener once again, just so there are no surprises when it is down beat time.

Do away with “fader fighting”

One of the biggest mistakes sound techs make is what I like to call “fader fighting” or additive mixing. If you can’t hear a particular instrument, you push that fader up. If that covers another instrument up, you push its fader up, and so on and so on, until we have a muddy roar.

Try subtractive mixing. Listen for the most offending (loudest) instrument and bring it down in the mix. You will have a much cleaner mix and happier musicians. Remember, “less is more.”

Don’t make adjustments during breaks

Another big no-no is making adjustments while the band is not playing. Musicians tend to make changes to their mix during breaks. Doing so will result in either too much or not enough adjustment. Wait until the band is playing to make the adjustment, and it will be like the baby bear…just right!

What does a band want in their mix?

Every musician is different. But my experience has been that the rhythm section will want various parts of …the rhythm section. For example, drummers will typically want bass, electric, and the lead vocal, and the worship leader’s instrument. Bass will typically want kick, snare (unless they are standing next to the drummer) and the worship leader’s instrument. Electric players will usually want bass, drums, and more electric! Keyboard players will generally want more of the worship leader’s instrument and vocal.

Again, these are not hard and fast rules, just typical generic things that I see. The point is that nobody needs every input in their mix; only what they need to enhance their performance. Many times the acoustic level of a particular instrument is enough.

In conclusion, if you are consistently listening to the wedges that the musicians are listening to, you can help fix the mush in their mix (subtractive mixing), because you know firsthand what you have placed in the mix. Plus you will have built trust with the musician. Have a good mix!

By: Michael Hill, Sennheiser
Courtesy Sennheiser USA

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