In Ear Monitor Isolation – Too Much of a Good Thing?
Veteran Technical Director and CCI Solutions Church Relations Director, Duke DeJong continues his series of articles on using personal monitors in live sound for worship. Join Duke on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ccisolutions. & www.twitter.com/ccisolutions
Music is often considered the pinnacle of art; a clearly expressive showing of taste, emotion, message and culture. When created in a group, a collaboration must be present in order for the end result to sound coherent and inspiring. In worship music particularly, a high level of collaboration must occur in order to lead a group of people in worshiping God. The bass guitarist and drummer must be working together to build the groove of the song. The guitars and keyboards must each fill their own space in order to provide the body and melody of the music. On top of that, singers must be out front leading people in adoration of God. We've all heard great worship teams and those who struggle. Most often I find it's their ability to work together that defines the separation.
Eliminate Stage Volume!
Over the past decade much has been done to help eliminate stage volume and give musicians good, safe ways to hear the things they need to hear in order to succeed in leading worship. The advent of personal monitor systems has been great for this, giving control to the musicians and allowing the ultimate in flexibility. One trap I've seen many musicians fall into with personal monitoring systems however is focusing so much on hearing themselves that they don't bring up the other instruments that they are supposed to be interacting with. They've lost the interaction with other musicians by isolating just their own instrument into their ears. They're no longer listening to the other instruments to make sure they aren't playing on top of other musicians, they aren't listening to the drums and bass to make sure they are in time, and sometimes they aren't bringing the leader up in order to hear directions. They've taken isolation too far.
How It Started!
For years touring musicians have used in ear monitors in order to hear better and to decrease the audio clutter and volume on stage. While there are some drawbacks, being able to clearly hear what you are doing and minimize the impact of stage volume on the house became standard on high dollar tours. Tours would have monitor engineers on stage running their in ear mixes, or have huge consoles at FOH to run them from there. This simply wasn't practical for most venues, so churches continued to struggle with stage volume. Nearly a decade ago it all changed with the introduction of personal monitor mixers.
Personal monitor systems aren't meant to create silos on the stage, but to help you safely and more clearly hear the things you need to hear in order to do your art better. If you made the jump to a personal monitor system a while ago, I'd like to challenge you to really listen to your mix and see if you can hear everything you need to hear to be a part of the worship collaboration. If you're just getting started or are thinking about it, personal monitor systems are an awesome tool but you must make sure you don't turn going after clarity into isolating yourself from the rest of your fellow artists.
The Need For Ambient Mics
It's not just interaction with the band that is critical as a musician. A common complaint from personal monitor systems is a feeling of isolation from what is happening with the congregation and in the room. I've installed many of these systems over the years and there is a common denominator for me between the systems musicians are happy with versus the ones they're frustrated with: Ambient Mics. As we've already discussed, musicians need some isolation from all of the sound on stage in order to clearly hear what they need to hear, but again music is an art and art needs to feed off of other artists as well as the people receiving that art. We've already discussed how critical it is for musicians to be able to interact with their fellow band and singers, but they need to have some level of interaction with the congregation as well, and that's where ambient mics can help create the right blend of isolation and inclusion for each person.
While I don't have a must use mic for ambient mics (I often use the cost effective AKG C 1000), I do prefer mics with cardioid pickup patterns hung in the house with the back of the mic aimed towards the speakers. The idea is to reject as much of the sound system as possible and pick up the room. If you can't hang them, placing your mics on the front of the stage pointing slightly down and into the audience can work too. Ultimately, 2 mics in the house blended into a single channel on the Aviom can make a world of difference for your musician's feel (and by the way, for your recordings too). If you want some additional coverage, adding another mic or two in the stage area (away from the drums) can also help the band communicate with each other and hear some of what they would be hearing if they didn't have in-ears or headphones on.
Ambient Mics A Must!
I don't believe there is only one "right" way to set ambient mics up, but I do believe that including ambient mics into your personal monitor system is a must. You have to find what's right for you and your room, but whatever helps the band connect with each other and the congregation is a good thing. In fact that connectedness may be the difference between your musicians using them or not.
In the end, personal monitor mixers were never created to isolate artists from other artists or artists from the congregation, but to create enough isolation from the sound on stage that they can hear well enough to do their part with excellence. In order to implement personal monitor systems effectively you must find the balance between isolation and inclusion. Be careful to not get sucked into the trap of isolating yourself from other band members and if at all possible give yourself the ability to add in some ambient sound from the room. Ensuring good interaction with your fellow musicians and the congregation you are leading can make the difference between awkward music and awesome worship.
Church Relations Director
Duke has over 14 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. Duke travels around the country for CCI Solutions and is available to help your ministry. Join Duke on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ccisolutions