In “FOH Monitor Mixing Basics, Part 1: Configuring the System,” we covered the basic steps of configuring a monitor mix and traced the signal chain from microphone to floor wedge. In part two, we’re going to discuss the steps you can take to ensure a great show and eliminate technical problems. This includes the band’s sound check and “ringing out the system,” which is a preliminary process that will help prevent feedback before it happens.
Ringing Out the System
“Feedback” is one of the worst words (and sounds) you can hear as a live sound engineer, and eliminating it from an audio system should be one of your highest priorities. To keep feedback from rearing its ugly head during the sound check or performance, it’s important to “ring out” the system before the musicians arrive.
“Ringing out” means to identify and attenuate specific frequencies that are likely to feedback in a particular space. For an in-depth walkthrough, check out this HARMAN blog post on how to ring out a main house system. Ringing out each monitor mix follows the same concept covered in the blog post using these basic steps:
- Set the main LR fader, the monitor bus master fader, the input channel fader and the channel-to-bus fader (or knob) at 0dB so that no gain is being added or subtracted.
- Slowly raise the channel preamp until you hear a subtle ringing on the verge of feedback and then slightly dial it back. Repeat this step until all microphones are at (or near) stage volume.
- Mute or attenuate your FOH master and slowly raise the monitor bus master until you hear feedback. Use a graphic EQ to notch out the first offending frequency.
- Continue to raise the volume and cut additional frequencies through this process until you have a loud monitor wedge that is clear and feedback-free.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the next monitor bus and graphic EQ. After you’ve completed this process on all monitor busses, it’s time for sound check!
Sound Check Communication and Workflow
Many bands aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do during sound check, so it’s the engineer’s job to lead the band through this process with grace. To expedite a good sound check, the engineer should utilize a talkback microphone for communication with the band. Set up a talkback channel by routing microphone into an unused input on the console. Leave the channel fader down and use the aux sends to route it to each stage monitor without it coming through the main house system.
Use the talkback mic to ask the band, “Is my voice too loud or too quiet in anyone’s monitor?” If the answer is yes, turn it down until it’s at a comfortable level for each musician, and then tell the band you’re ready to check one instrument at a time and begin with the drums. “Kick drum, please! Who wants it? Point your finger up if you want more, point your finger down if you want less, put your hand down when you’re satisfied.” Adjust each instrument’s level to each musician’s monitor mix until they communicate that they have as much as they want.
This continues through the snare, high hat, bass, guitars, and vocals until every channel has been checked and every band member is happy with the mix they’re hearing in their wedge. Singers usually want a lot of their vocals, while guitar players often need the other guitarist in their mix. Bass players will want a lot of kick drum and guitar. Drummers will probably want a lot of everything, since they’re playing behind the loudest instrument acoustically.
After all instruments have been checked, ask the band to play a full song so that they can hear everything in context and request any last minute adjustments. This will also give you an opportunity to dial in the FOH mix while the band is running through the song. If they have any requests, accommodate each musician one at a time. Remember to keep an eye on the stage during the performance in case a band members uses a hand signal to ask for more of themselves in the monitors.
Every live sound engineer needs to be able to dial in a good monitor mix on wedges. Now that you’ve learned about communicating with the band and how to “ring out” the system, you can walk into your next sound check with confidence. In part three, we’ll cover five processes every engineer can use to improve their monitor mixes.
Do you have your own tips for workflow and communication? Let us know in the comments section.