For running a PA system with a live band, some kind of monitor system is a must . Therefore, it is right to say that stage monitors are often the backbone of all good live performances. A musical performance is said to be good if your audience can hear you perfectly and if you can hear yourself and your band mates clearly as well. You also need to hear your instruments too. Failure to that, your ability to perform is diminished. This is true whether in a church, club or concert hall.
Stage monitoring is a thing that monitoring professionals, performers and anyone working in this field should take very seriously. Seasoned monitoring entails having the correct equipment that is best suited with the nature of the chosen venue and performance, and lastly, setting up and its operation.
What is a stage monitor?
Before we delve deeper into how to use stage monitors, it is imperative that we understand what they are. A stage monitor system entails speakers found on stage, which face the performer. They enable the performer to hear him/herself. The monitor’s speakers are handy whenever amplified instruments are put into use together with acoustic instruments and the musician’s voice.
In addition, monitors also have their own amplifiers and equalizers. They are usually run by a mix distinct from the front of house system (FOH). The alternative for some churches is to use wireless in ear monitors, which are becoming more popular.
Stage monitors come in different sizes, structures and specifications. Irrespective of that, they all fall into two major categories: powered (active) and unpowered (passive) stage monitors.
Take a look:
• Unpowered monitors
Before speakers release sound to the audience, a signal from the band ought to be thrust through a power amplifier. This is the case for all speakers. Passive stage monitor speakers usually require external amplifiers, unlike the powered version which features integrated amplifiers. They are preferable for venues in which a sound system has been installed.
• Powered monitors
The major dissimilarity between active vs passive speakers in stage monitors is the fact that in active powered monitors, the amplifiers are inbuilt. They are more portable since its amplifier and speaker are housed in the same space. Check out my article on the difference between active vs passive speakers.
Stage monitors also come in various designs. It is up to you to choose the one that suits all your monitoring needs perfectly.
Some of the designs include:
• Stage wedges
This design is quite popular when it comes to monitoring. It is designed to sit on the floor using its wide base, while it is at the same time directed upwards towards the performer without preventing the audience from having a good view of the performer.
The stage wedge is ideal for performances where all band members have a dedicated monitor.
• In-ear monitors
For some performers, a monitor that is placed on the stage does not cut it. They feel like it does not provide the required variability, clarity and mobility that they desire. For such performers, the in-ear monitors are quite ideal. While floor monitors for church remain popular, many churches are moving to in ear and wireless setups. Click here to read about how iems work.
• Stand-mounted design
The stand-mounted design is the opposite of the wedge. Just as its name suggests, it can be mounted on a wall or pole. However, this may end up blocking the view of some of your audience. This design is ideal for bands in which performers share monitors.
• Side fill monitors
Due to improvements in technology, side fill monitors are slowly losing their functionality. However, we will not fail to mention them due to the role that they have played previously.
They complement single wedge monitors and they are found offstage. They provide a mix that can be heard by the entire group. The fuller mix provided enables the musicians to give better performances.
You should my huge article on 101 Ideas for Church Sound Systems. There’s a ton of useful info in there to help develop your team. You can read it here.
Worship musicians monitoring requirements
Now that we have a solid knowledge of the types and designs of stage monitoring systems available in the market. It is time we got to understand how to use stage monitors and why it is important for worship leaders to incorporate them into their live performances.
Every performer needs to feel that the sounds they create are excellent. I don’t really like to talk about ‘performance’ when it comes to leading worship, however, musical competency is very important. If worship musicians and singers perform well, it will enhance the whole worship experience. Musicians also want to have a sense of security that emanates from knowing what their fellow band members are doing, and by having a good sense of what direction the music is taking. All of this very much depends on being able to hear each other well, and come down to having a good monitor mix.
Quality of sound specification
The stage monitor sound usually has certain requirements. Therefore, whichever monitor gets the job done, is the best at that particular time.
A good stage monitor should not have any hum, disruptions, clicks, buzzes or any noise. When it comes to quality of sound specifications, a good monitor needs a sturdy, punchy bass. Bass tend to linger around the room, hence the monitors need to be able to vanquish that.
Lastly, the sound from the monitors should be gentle to the ears – click here to find out if ear monitors damage hearing. Clarity of sound can be sought and achieved without having to rip out your ears. Treating the monitor sound is also something that you should take into consideration. By treating the sound, you end up compressing some stand -alone channels, and this aids in enhancing the fullness of sound.
Floor monitor setup and design
As earlier mentioned, the classic stage monitor design available is the wedge. It is designed in a way that angles the sound upwards from where it is placed on the floor, to the performer’s ears.
A good thing about wedge models is that it includes the option of choosing between one that features the HF drive unit that is located on top of the LF unit or the ones that are adjacent to each other.
On most occasions, wedges are often accompanied by side fills. Wedges are best used when each performer is given their own and when it is placed in close proximity to each and every one of them. It however becomes tricky to use whenever the performers feel the urge to move about. This is where side fills come in. They cover the areas of the stage that were left out by the wedge. Side fills are not very efficient all the same. Most performers complain that they make the sound too loud such that they cannot hear a thing. Therefore, it is recommended that they should be used only when needed. However, what should be done is, to position sound to the parts on the stage which will be used only. In the event that the performer moves to a part on the stage that is not well covered by side-fills, he/she has to adjust to that new location or make do without the sound.
Amplifiers should have lots of power, more than what you intend to use. For instance, if your speaker can handle 100w, its amplifier should have more power compared to that. The amount of power your monitor has varies according to its model. Most monitors have loop-through connectors which enable the amplifier to be connected to one wedge, and the cycle continues. This is ideal for small systems which do not require many amplifiers.
Stage Sound check
Sufficient time needs to be given to the sound check including time spent getting monitor levels right. This requires good communication between musicians and sound tech team.
For the worship team, each member should also be aware of what they would like to attain from the monitors, and they should have already relayed it to the monitor engineer.
The only drawback is that both the front of house (FOH) engineer and the monitor engineer have to perform their duties concurrently. This sometimes results in things falling apart during the service, because one of them might have done things in an erroneous manner. You should read my article on how to do a church sound check.
Combining monitors from the FOH console
In small sized systems, it is needful to combine the stage monitors from the FOH console. This is probably the setup in most churches. But before we delve into this, let us first find out where the monitor’s signal comes from. More often than not, the monitor signal is almost the same as the FOH mix. When it comes to side fills, the signal is the same. However, monitoring requirements are usually very distinct from the audience’s requirements.
The good thing is, all PA mixing consoles usually allow you to put it up in pre-fade supplemental sends. Pre-fade implies that the signal comes from a part in the channel preceding the fader. The fader therefore has got zero effect on the channel level in the monitors.
There are reasons as to why monitors should never be combined from FOH, unless by a refined monitor console and engineer. They include:
• The FOH console might have a tiny amount of pre-fade additional sends.
• There is a probability of sub-standard communication between the musicians and the FOH engineer.
• The multicore cable could be close to being totally full from signals coming in and the FOH signals leaving and heading towards the amplifiers.
• This results in another extra job for the FOH engineer.
Consoles best for monitoring
Choosing a mixing console ideal for monitoring is fairly straightforward to figure out. An ideal mixing console should have lots of auxiliary sends. There is not a lot of variance between a FOH console meant for monitoring and a dedicated monitoring console. Provided that there are lots of auxiliary sends, it is perfect for monitoring.
Note that, where a FOH console needs to be used with a distinct monitor console, the front of house does not require all those auxiliaries. They can only be used for effects if so desired.
Placement of a monitor console
The side of the stage is the ideal place to position your monitor console. The side, right or left, is left at your discretion. However, the engineer may have a side he/she prefers such as placing it closer to one of the performers.
The grounds for positioning the console on the side of the stage, is to promote better communication with the band. It can be distracting to the congregation, seeing band members trying to communicate with each other using gestures.
The monitoring engineer ought to observe the monitor mixes, and this can be done through the auxiliary outputs by inserting headphones to monitor whether the signal is inaccessible from the jumble of the sound on stage – click here to read my post on AKG headphones for monitoring.
Creating a monitor mix
When doing this, the monitor engineer takes into consideration all the requirements that the band has brought forward. However, since the engineer is the one well versed with how matters are carried out, he should do things out of his own accord. Some requirements maybe expressed by the performers, but cannot be fulfilled.
An ordinary monitor fix differs from the FOH mix, in that the monitor mix has to be potent. It needs not be an outstanding musical mix, but it has to:
• Enable the performers to play well together as a whole.
• To let the musicians know where they are in the song.
• Enables performers to sing in tune, hear themselves and be in consonance with their instruments.
• Ensures that the drummer is on time with the backing track.
The performers also have some requirements such as:
• They should be able to hear whether they are performing well or not.
• The band’s overall sound should sound right to the band.
• In the event of a spill in the first two rows of their audience, it need not wreck their performance.
I wrote a post a while ago listing my favourite sound gear for use in church. You should check it out. You can read it here.
Every worship musician wants to hear the correct sound in their monitor. This enables them play better as a band or as solo performer. That is why every musician ought to know how to use stage monitors. Once they do, they are able to help lead the congregation in their worship.
Frank Edwards is the founder and owner of churchsoundtips.com and has over 10 years experience running sound in his local church.