In Lesson 6, we began our discussion of the output section. We focused on the bottom portion of the output section which is mainly used for the Sub mixes. In this lesson, we will begin our discussion of the Auxiliary Sends and the most common use of the Aux sends, Monitors.
What are Auxiliary Sends?
Auxiliary sends (Aux Send) give you the ability to create mixes for purposes other than sending audio signals to the main speakers that are used in the auditorium.
Auxiliary Send Applications:
Monitors, Effects, Recording, Auxiliary locations/rooms
The most common use of Aux Sends is on-stage monitors. “Monitors” allow the musician on stage to “monitor” the sound that they are creating. Clever naming convention, huh!?! By utilizing monitors, the musicians on the stage to hear a different mix than what is coming from the mains. Why do they need a different mix? There are many answers to that question. However, the general answer is that it is helpful for a musician to hear their own voice or instrument “louder” than what you want to run that signal in the main mix. And, the “performance” of the musician is often a clue to what then need to hear in the monitor. For example, if the vocalists are not keeping in time with the band, they probably need to hear more drum in the monitor (but perhaps they just have no sense of rhythm). If they are singing off key, they may need more keyboard … or more of their own vocals.
Monitors are probably the most difficult thing to mix correctly because everyone needs something a little bit different and you can’t easily tell what they are hearing on the stage. It is very easy to get a mix in the monitors that is so muddled that it defeats the purpose of the monitors. They can also be ran so loud that they overwhelm the mix that is coming from the mains, particularly in a small room.
How do you get good monitor sound? My approach is a minimalist one. Rule 1: Musicians need to be able to hear themselves. Rule 2: They need to have references for pitch and rhythm. Rule 3: They are not going to know what it sounds like out of the main speakers. That is your job. The difficulty comes when “someone in charge” says “We can’t hear the lead guitar” or some other instrument which doesn’t apply to Rule 1 or Rule 2. Of course, you have to turn it up … but putting the entire band into the monitor for the vocalists will make the mix muddy (unless you are really good!). Ultimately, when I wear my “musician hat”, I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have only a partial mix in the monitors in order to be able to hear the things that I really have to hear. That isn’t “ultimately” as satisfying as hearing the whole mix, but it is effective in providing the audio feedback that is necessary to do my part well.
So that is one Aux send, right? Wrong! If you have a band with vocalists, you should have at least one monitor mix for the vocalists and one monitor mix for the band. In many instances, you will have 3 or 4 monitor mixes. In the ultimate situation, you will have a separate monitor mixer on stage with a separate sound tech running the mixes for the musicians from there … but there are few churches who have that complex of a setup, and therefore, we will not discuss that type of setup in these lessons. For each monitor mix, you must have at least one speaker and one amp. I know that is a “duh”, but I am targeting these lessons to beginners and it is always best to be clear. Also, if possible, it is nice to have a 27 band eq (equalizer) for each of the monitor mixes so that you can minimalize feedback on stage without having to turn down the entire mix. But, more on that later.
So, what happens when the band / vocalists want the monitors so loud that it overwhelms the main speakers? First: DO NOT ASSUME THAT THE MUSICIANS DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT AND TURN DOWN THE VOLUME OF THE MONITORS. I guarantee you one thing: You do not want the musicians to have difficulty hearing themselves. That is a recipe for wrong notes, off-key singing and overall poor performance. The good thing is that you will never be blamed for any of those things. The bad thing is that it is your fault!
The real problem in most of the situations is that the sound environment is not ideal for the musical group on the stage. Either the auditorium is too live, too small or a strange shape. Often times, it is all three things. So, how do you compensate for the monitors being loud? Rule 1: Explain the situation to the musicians. They may be able to do with less monitor level. If this doesn’t remedy the situation, then you are going to need to do what you can to minimize the problem.
1. Always run some sound from the main speakers. The high end of the audio signal tends to be absorbed more easily than the mids and lows and so if you are hearing the monitors out front (from the auditorium), it tends to sound mushy because it doesn’t enough “highs”. Therefore, there needs to be some sound from the main speakers to “sweeten” the sound. You have to use your ear to figure out how much you can add.
2. The overall sound may be a bit louder than you want it. However, you can’t do much about that. If you have a “band” in a small room, it is going to be loud. Again, most of the highs from the monitor are absorbed and the highs are what most people recognize as the “loudness” of the sound (except, of course for the bass and bass drum that the older folks always complain about no matter how loud it is). If you control the high spectrum well, many people will never know that most of the sound they are hearing is coming from the monitors.
3. Often times, a loud monitor mix will help to cause feedback. In later lessons, we will discuss feedback causes and remedies. However, I do want to talk about feedback a little bit here in regard specifically to monitors. Feedback from the stage monitors is usually due to vocalists “pointing” their microphones at the monitors or a rooms characteristics. Part of training vocalists how to sing on stage is to help them understand how important it is for them to “manage” their microphone properly. For preventing feedback, microphones on stands are wonderful things because no one ever inadvertently points the mic at the monitors. If they are holding them in their hands, they have to be aware of the position of the mic at all times.
Room characteristics are a bit more tricky of a problem, but one that can be effectively eliminated with a dedicated EQ. I prefer a 27 band EQ for this application. A 27 band EQ has the audio spectrum split up into 27 sections. The volume level of the various “pitches” can then be turned up or down utilizing the proper EQ slider. To eliminate the feedback, you find the slider (or sliders) that correspond to the offending frequency and turn it down. All of the other frequencies remain where they are. This will allow you to get rid of the feedback problem without much effect to the overall mix.
The above description of “Equalizing” the monitors is woefully inadequate, but is really all of the space I can allow for it at this time. A future lesson will discuss this subject in much more detail.
In the next lesson, we will continue our discusson of the Auxillary sends.