Live Sound 101: Monitor Mixes with Kris Jackson
Photo by Gino Martinez
This week we catch up with Kris Jackson and talk about getting a little more me, please. That's right, it's time to chat monitor mixes! It can be a little daunting taking your show to the stage for the first time, and no where else is this felt more than how the band or project sounds when performing on a new stage. Gone is the reflective din of the garage bedroom, or rehearsal. Now all you have is one speaker in front of you to help guide you home. Lets jump in with Kris and ask him how to make this all more manageable and most importantly, successful.
Often times bands have never heard themselves using monitors until sound checking before they play their first song. What is some advice you’d give to musicians (you can be instrument specific if you’d like) about hearing themselves in the monitors for the first time and what to expect?
I think I covered some of this in part 1. Really this is something that only experience will teach, and every musician and singer has different needs. Best advice I can give is to use a rehearsal space that has monitors and a technician to help set them up. Once you’ve worked out what you need to hear in rehearsal multiple times, it should make it easier to figure out on stage.
Whats the difference between Front of House (FOH) and the Monitor mix? Why is that important to a band member?
Front of House is for the audience, monitor is for the musician. They are entirely separate. A monitor mix could be just one instrument or whatever else the musician needs to hear, the FOH mix should ideally be a good sonic balance of all instruments and singers. Don’t be a dummy and try to tell the engineer how to mix FOH while you are playing on stage, no matter how good you are, they are in a better listening position than you. However, if you have someone who knows about audio that is in the audience, they can talk to the engineer about the FOH mix, depending on the temperament of the engineer. To make this situation go smooth, it’s best to let the engineer know ahead of time that you have your “manager” listening at FOH and they may have suggestions for the mix. (Key word "suggestion". Always defer to the expertise of the engineer) Introducing them ahead of time let’s the engineer know that they employed by the band, otherwise they could just be some drunk guy yelling “more bass” for no apparent reason.
When is it time for a band to start using in-ear monitors?
If the band knows how to set up a self contained in ear system, and they prefer them to wedges, I’d say it’s time. If a band wants to use in ears but doesn’t have a system, they need to know exactly what they want to hear so they can communicate that properly to the engineer. Keep in mind that you are putting 100% trust in the house sound engineer for everything you’ll hear during the show, and you’re also trusting them not to blow your ear drums out. Not always the best idea if you don’t know and trust the house tech.
What can bands do to ensure that they sound the best they possibly can, given they have little to no control over the microphone placement, mix, and house acoustics?
Practice, practice, practice! Make sure whatever tones you are giving the house engineer are as clean or as dirty as you want them. Play at a reasonable level, and also work on having the whole band play at the same level. If the instruments of the band sound reasonably balanced before they are even miked up, that’s a great starting point(I mean the amplified instruments, not instruments that are plugged in DI, those will be controlled by the sound tech regardless). Some of the toughest mixes I’ve had involve a really loud drummer and a whisper quiet singer. If I’m getting 10x as much drums as I am vocals going through the vocal mic, it’s gonna be damn tough to get a decent balance.
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