Stage Monitors Considerations
Since we started ten years ago, all our fully engineered PA packages include monitor speakers (also known as foldback). The reason why is simple – if a musician cannot hear themselves they are never going to perform with all the nuance and expression that they are capable of, and in the worst case they may feel distinctly uncomfortable, not being sure if their tuning or notes are correct, which immediately affects the audience experience. The quality of the monitoring experience we offer has gradually increased, and is now one of the best in the market. So what makes a great monitor system?
The first thing is totally free! Take care as to where you put your backline, and control your individual volumes considerately. Tilt guitar amps back or place cases between them and other musicians. Lift amps up on furniture or cases. Dial out the bass in the bass amp to give more headroom and clarity in the mids. Position the band away from reflective surfaces.
The next thing is the mixing desk. How many monitors do you need? Ideally one for each musician, but considering the cost (see final point) of monitors this is not always possible. Every monitor speaker needs to have a dedicated aux send on the mixer in order to give that speaker a specific mix. This quickly affects the cost of the mixing board as basic mixers at £50-80 often only have one aux send, whereas a mixer with 4-6 mixes will be over £500, and many digital mixers costing £0000s have 14 or more. Take time to adjust the monitor mix AND the backline levels and remember you can turn things down as well as up or point the monitors in different directions as required.
Getting loud and clear monitors! Your best bet is to buy or rent loud and clear monitors. Linearity is often key to this and means they don’t have a spiky frequency response. Beware though, a speaker that says it is linear often isn’t and you sometimes actually need to use the speaker to check how it behaves. Ten years ago we used homemade monitors and had surprisingly good success with these by using EQ, however when we worked in more challenging environments they quickly fell short. We now use high performance co-axial speakers (this is the design preferred by all the best monitor speaker manufacturers now). They are not only linear but also have a controlled dispersion pattern which means they sound great up close and the clarity allows more comfortable volumes on stage to be managed. We will always provide you with the best monitor speakers we have available if you hire a package, but if you want to guarantee the Martin Audio LE100 speakers please add them as a dry hire item to your order.
By using a graphic (or other equaliser) and/or a feedback destroyer you can go a long way towards improving the loudness of your monitor mix. Only ever reduce the level on a graphic equaliser and take extreme care not to remove too much signal, especially on outboard graphic equalisers as you will adversely affect clarity, which is why good speakers are better that lots of EQ.
A note on in-ear monitors… It is worth noting that on larger events it might be reasonable to turn up with in-ear monitors and expect a feed from the desk. However, in smaller stages where not everything is being mic’d up, you might find that the sound is not complete and sometimes there are not enough aux sends on the mixer for you to use them anyway. More recently, in-ear mixes can often be controlled via iPhone/Android apps so you can now get the exact sound you want when available. In-ear monitors can be either wired or wireless, but the latter is more expensive and prone to drop outs.