Good monitor mixing, especially when the band gives up and stops asking for what they need.

Lisa Lane-Collins

Sophomore
Dec 9, 2012
262
0
16
Adelaide, Australia
I have two questions really.

Question one, when you're preparing for a touring band to come in and sound check what are the things you do to prep the space before they arrive as a matter of course? Bonus second part for this, what do you do to prepare for in ear mixes?

Question two, how do you provide a good foldback for musicians who aren't happy with the sound but also aren't telling you what they need?

I had a bad gig last week where the musicians needs were never really met, but they played the whole set without asking for anything (and then complained to the venue). I could monitor the mixes being sent to their respective wedges and in ears and they all, sounded like mixes, but I suspect they don't really sound like what the musicians are hearing. Example, the lead singer was on in ears. Through my cans her mix sounded fine, vocal heavy, a little bit of guitar and keys. Without her communicating if she needed more vocals or more instruments I wasn't willing to make a gamble on it. But at some point in the night I had a listen on the guitar tech's in ear mix (he asked for one so he had it) and the in ears sounded shrill and terrible! So for example, going forward, I would think it's best practice to have in ears available at the monitor desk for pfl soloing their sends.

Any and all tips will be gratefully received, I would like to do better next time.
 

Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
84
6
8
Why on earth did you not ask them? I've been in a touring band or two for a very long time and one common thing is that when you use IEMs, trusting a venue sound person is a horrible experience if they are not proactive, and post covid some truly dire operators on lovely systems are in the venues. We toured our own system for stage for a long time, so we could have our own mix, but any venue without stage controlled monitors is going to be horrible. If you got something workable it was often worth just saying fine and suffering for a couple of hours. In one band we all had essential needs as the four people all played and sang for every song, and if I got the drummer's vocals in my ears, I could not sing - I needed the keys player for tuning. Some bands you just need a general mix. If the band do not ask for things, and you do not ask them, they'll slag you and the venue off. I cannot understand why at the soundcheck you didn't just say "OK - bass, what do you want in your ears?", then sort it, and move to the next. For general monitoring that's probably enough, but if you are out front, many bands will NOT say to the audience, "can I have a bit more keys in my mix?" one, because it's dangerous - you might think that was the guitarist and wreck his mix,, but leave the person who asked without what they needed, then the guitarist wrecks the next song and asks at the end for the keys to go down and you try to fix it but make not worse. Yuk. Some bands also hate talking about their mix to the audience because it sounds pretentious, when it could be essential.
 

Riley Casey

Sophomore
Jan 12, 2011
290
25
28
WDC in the USA
www.espsound.com
My general approach to mixing monitors ever since the advent of the Yamaha iPad capable consoles has been to walk out to the center of the stage with iPad in hand , IEM pack on my belt and headphones around my neck ( I don't use buds since I have to take the phones on and off too often ) and start talking to the players and make it very clear that I'm invested in becoming a part of their show. I started this routine in the olden days of being tied to the console, having a little face to face time with the band actually on stage so that I had a feel for their relationship to reach other acoustically and visually but iPad mixing took it to the next level. Standing literally next to a singer or guitar player and listening to what they are hearing and taking cues for things up and down from a meter away creates confidence and a sense that they have someone to talk to as the show progresses. Once that rapport is established the players are comfortable looking to monitor world and signing what needs to change. There will always be people that are unhappy with what they hear in their monitor mix because of what they are putting into the mix and you can't fix that and unfortunately it's hard to know sometimes when that's the cause of the problem but making it clear that you want to be a part of the band even for one night can be a good start to heading off a bad show.
 
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Tim McCulloch

Graduate Student
Jan 11, 2011
3,034
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Wichita KS USA
Hi Lisa-

My current #1 monitor mixer person has this in the preamble speech talkback to wedges - "I can read English, Spanish, and French, but I can't read your mind. If you need less or more of something TELL ME and I'll fix it for you. If I don't know you want something I can't help you."

I got my start in the biz because someone thought I was a monitor guru. I haven't mixed a lot of monitors in years (okay, decades) but the biggest thing to help me was to walk on stage and stand next to each player/singer and listen to what they heard. Not just what came out of the wedge, but the live drum kit, the amps, the other wedges; I needed to hear the mix in the same context the player was in. ONE 30 minute soundcheck forever altered my way of dealing with performers. The iPad/'Droid tablet remote control took it to another level.

{quick story} Had a 2014/2015 gig with the now-late drummer of Husker Du, Grant Hart, and it was clear that his wedge was loud enough but he didn't like it. I grabbed the tablet and made my way to the stage and stood next to him. "That sounds like shit", I said and made several alterations and watched his expression change with each one. Then I went to each player and did a quick check with them. and returned to FOH. {/quick story}

My other lesson on IEMs - so many variables, especially the IEMs themselves, then the RF link audio quality, and for singers, the occlusion effect. Headphones are not a substitute for 'in your ear' transducers and the vast array of THOSE... well, it's not realistic to own a pair of everything that might find its way into your venue. I'll leave suggestions for what you should own to others with more current experience. Occlusion is a problem because if you aren't the singer, you can't hear it. It's from the differences in the speed of sound between air and bone conductivity, and the resulting filter those create. The singer's mix that lacks low-mids and has accentuated mid-highs may well be compensated for the occlusion effect.

I mixed a contemporary country act IEMs from FOH, for a one off gig at a songwriting festival. The differences in what each player wanted were significant. When things were going well I'd solo the IEM mixes in my headphones and, well... nobody was asking for changes so I let them be. After the set I polled the band and everyone reported happiness with their mixes. We played a 2nd set without touching a mix, so I ended up believing them. Moral of this story - I may not like the way something sounds or is represented in someone else's mix, but I don't have to listen to it. If they're happy, I'm happy.
 

Andrew Bantock

New member
Apr 3, 2021
1
0
1
60
UK
I do lots of small Festivals with almost zero rehearsal time but I always ask the band what they want in the monitors. If they say 'nothing' that's fine. If they say 'a bit if everything' I know it's going to be difficult!

A good FB mix is so important; it makes the band happy and that leads to better gigs.

I must admit I've had very few IEM users though so interesting to heard the problems.
 
Jun 24, 2019
31
1
8
58
Wheeling, WV
I work for a local sound company and do a lot of monitors for touring acts. Riley and Tim pretty much nailed it. You need to establish a rapport with the band (though you have little time to do so on most gigs) When meeting the band try to be confident (not arrogant) and relaxed. When they walk on stage, they’re sizing you up and the ’can do’ attitude with a smile on your face goes a long way to put them at ease. When doing your monitor/line/sound check take charge before you start. Tell them what we’re going to do and how. “Alright, we are going to start with the the kick drum. Whoever needs it in the wedge/ear raise your hand. When you got enough put your hand down.” Remember, on a festival you have very little time at changeover so you need to get it done quickly and efficiently. Stand in the middle of the stage with iPad in hand. Then you can walk up to each individual, making eye contact and refine as you go. If I have a little time on set up, introduce yourself (whIch you should do regardless) and ask them what they want in their mix. I‘ll have the iPad in hand and rough it out in front of them as I tell them this is a start point and we will get refined at sound check. This goes a long way in building trust and establishing their confidence in you. They want to know you have their back and you‘re there to help them.


This is a service industry and you are a psychologist as much as you are a monitor engineer.
 

Mats Fagerkull

Freshman
Sep 11, 2015
5
0
1
As James McMullen writes, Riley and Tim pretty much summiraze it all in their answer. I once hade a nightmare gig with a n " artist" sex/ gender disclosed ... this was a Bob type of event with mostly local highschool participants. Only they had drafted a up- and- coming star from the capital, expected to be a contender in Idol on national tv. I had set up the stage with a nice set of monitors, d&b Max for gtr& Bass, two M2 for solosinger and dito for backgrd. I Was finished when the " artist" arrived... I present myself and ask if said person want to soundcheck, shure is the answer so I trott back to the board. I have just reached the board when I feel a tap on my shoulder turns around and hear " what kind of crap is this why does it not say JBL on the monitors"?? I explain that this is very Good quality speakers from Germany. Germany artist replies are worthless only good at starting wars and losing them(!?!??) Now I knew from the surename that artist was from one of the oldest german families in Sweden(!!!) Which made the conversation absurd. But you HillBillies probably don' t understand such. Uneducated as you are without proper educated with no scientist worth to remember?!? ( this was in Uppsala with the oldest University in the Nordic, 1477, alma mater to renowed scientists Linné and Celsiu emeritus professore. Schocked silent I watched artist walk away to stage where person starts fiddling with gtrs pair of Strata/ Tele. Wherby the foolishness starts again. "Why is the guitarist playing this crap? Real successful guitarists play Rickenbacker, look at Beatles, Noone have ever heard of a famous performer using Fender"!!! This must be the worst I ever will encounter since one of the songs on artists set was HeyJoe ....I answered" look man can we do the soundcheck or do you want to bring your manager who can call the organizers and soundcompany to sort this out to everyones satisfaction? Artist brings manager who makes calls and takes artist away. Rest of gig went smooth with a minor mistake on my part when I called up wrong preset for a group during finishing song. The Company did a gig later that summer with Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight using The same monitor rig. No complaints and it is well known that Sir Elton is particular about the monitors. I was not working the gig, I was only a freelance guy doing minor gigs like Bob or Sos
 
Jun 24, 2019
31
1
8
58
Wheeling, WV
Wow! Mats, that’s up there in the all time strange encounters. “Noone have ever heard of a famous performer using Fender"!!! That’s pretty funny. What a very odd human being.

Two M2’s? That should have caved their chest in.
 

Lisa Lane-Collins

Sophomore
Dec 9, 2012
262
0
16
Adelaide, Australia
In answer to why didn’t I ask? We did a looooong sound check at the end of which everyone claimed to be happy. There was a point where all the requests were piled on me in quick succession and the foh engineer came down and took over the monitor mix (to pull the in ear mix he said but then he started fielding other requests but he wasn’t over my channel assignment and it was a bit like ‘what are you doing? I’m capable of operating the gear I just need people to ask the questions one at a time!’) that probably didn’t help with band confidence. To this day I don’t really understand what he saw out the front that made him think that was necessary. I’ve done maybe 4 or 5 of these touring band monitor mixes in this venue to date and never before had the problems I had with this band.

A couple of songs into the concert the foh tech comes up and tells me the singer isn’t happy with the foldback and can he give it a tweak? Sure. He’s happier with what he can hear in the cans and tells me if she’s fiddling with the in ears it’s not right. She fiddles with them for the rest of the show!

Days after the gig I’m told the guitarist wasn’t happy either. I get not wanting to let the audience hear you asking but he was like 2 metres away from my face.

I had no idea about occlusion, that might explain why the inears sound so shrill. And would make it near impossible for the monitor tech to ever hear what they’re hearing but pulling the in ears mix on stage with the iPad still sounds like a better way to go.

Heck Matt, I’m impressed with the diplomatic resolution of bouncing that performer and his complaints back to his manager!

Edit to add:

Just remembered I did start on stage with the iPad but when it came to pulling the in ear mixes the desk wasn’t responding.

Another thing I test before the band arrives going forward!
 
Hey,

For a Touring band coming in. If I'm using house kit. I'd expect wedges to be in place and wired as per plot, backline power in place, a pile of Mic stands with mics on the ready on the floor of the venue as per channel list. Sat boxes in place and marked up ready to go. Patch done pending any changes. The stage to be clear for getting kit on. once in place I then start wireing from the front of the stage back. so vocal lines in first while the drummer and guitarists set up, Guitar mics/ bass di/ keys Dis etc next then the drummer should be ready. Wire the kit up. This way if they have a sound engineer they can jump straight in to eqing wedges if needed.

As for mixing monitors, I have a line I use after every sound check "I'm right here during the show, PLEASE don't suffer in silence, if you need something in the monitors Just ask". That said some artists are good at knowing what they want. Others might be having a bad day or not know what to ask for to get what they want. Sometimes it's not about you, sometimes they are just having an off day and not feeling the vibe whatever you do. Getting them relaxed and knowing they can ask for things is the most you can do.

Having your own IEMs helps but it all depends on what the band is using. Even the RF transmittion affects the sound. so what you hear at the headphone out will be different to the IEMs. I always approch IEMs for incoming bands by saying as we linecheck stick your hand up untill its loud enough in your ears. gets everything in the ballpark from the beginning. I don't try to preset IEM mixes. Some bands just want Vocal and their instrument others want full stereo mixes. I find wedges are more predictable. If using both. populate the IEMs first. then the wedges if they want some for feel.

Hope that helps
Kimx
 
For a Touring band coming in. If I'm using house kit. I'd expect wedges to be in place and wired as per plot, backline power in place, a pile of Mic stands with mics on the ready on the floor of the venue as per channel list. Sat boxes in place and marked up ready to go. Patch done pending any changes. The stage to be clear for getting kit on. once in place I then start wireing from the front of the stage back. so vocal lines in first while the drummer and guitarists set up, Guitar mics/ bass di/ keys Dis etc next then the drummer should be ready. Wire the kit up. This way if they have a sound engineer they can jump straight in to eqing wedges if needed.
This is a great theory, but it breaks down a bit when the stageplot received and confirmed accurate by the band contact (on the day of the show, even) ends up not matching how the band sets up. After this happens enough times, venue folks and local providers tend to do a bit less setup prior to band arrival...