Great monitor mixes are critical for a live performer in order to play and deliver his or her best performance. Having performed thousands of different gigs, I can say that when the monitoring situation is less than ideal, it has been very hard to deliver my best playing. If the mix of the band sounds muddy or unbalanced, or the sound of my guitar seems off, the result can be an inability to play with my normal feel because I can’t hear myself or the band well. It might even cause a lack of inspiration to be creative with parts and sounds. Here are some thoughts on how I like things to sound (in-ear monitors or with wedges) and some ideas of what you can do if you encounter an undesirable monitoring situation.
First, I generally like to have my performing environment sound like a great mix of a record with in-ears or a solid live room mix if using wedges—with just a little more of me in either situation. If we are playing to a click track, I like to put it where I hear it easily when I’m playing my loudest by myself, but where it can blend in at full band rock volume. I will EQ other instruments, tracks and vocals if I need to, so therefore it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of low end (rumble, boominess), mids (muddiness, or warm pokiness), and highs (brightness, harshness). Sometimes you need to adjust these parameters of others or even yourself to make your overall mix sound clear. This approach applies to playing guitar, bass, keys and vocals and it helps me hear subtle nuances in my playing and singing. Being a little louder helps me play with better dynamics and touch on the instrument and helps my feel. A player has to be careful, however, not to be so loud to the point they cannot hear the other band members or click well enough to play in time. Good timing is a MUST! It’s also important as a melodic instrument not to step on the vocals or other players, so it is important to keep the bliss of hearing yourself in check.
There are times you cannot hear yourself well or that things sound off with your tone and here are some troubleshooting tips you can go through if you encounter this situation (I’ll use guitar as an example). First, make sure your cables and gear check out. If using an amp, what mic used and where it is placed in front of the speaker (about 3 inches from the edge is
a good starting point) make a huge difference. Does it sound good listening directly to the amp in the room or isolation area? If yes, check the mic, mic placement, XLR cables, and signal path at the console as these factors make a huge difference. If using an in-ear monitor mixer device, sometimes settings on them will affect your tone as they often have EQ, panning and reverb options. Also check your headphones or your actual floor monitor by switching them out. Sometimes they go bad. Sometimes it’s the cable connection to your in-ears from your wireless pack or in-ear mixer. It can also be that the wireless pack has a problem or messed up setting—panning or gain controls come to mind.
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If going direct and you know your sound is tried and true in various locations but it sounds abnormal in your in-ear monitors or a wedge, then here are some ideas to help diagnose the issue. First, ask the sound engineer if there is any EQ, compression, modulation, or any plugins on your channel or on your monitor mix bus channel. Many times the settings are leftover from the previous performance as sound techs don’t always reset the console. This is important because it can affect your sound in the main speakers as well and your tone should be guarded because it is your unique sound! I have a good sound dialed in with my Line 6 HD500 and my Line 6 HX Stomp to go direct in stereo (meaning left and right sides panned respectively) but sometimes the signal is sent to the in-ears in mono. Many times it can be adjusted to be full stereo and it makes a huge difference if you are using stereo effects such as delay and reverb. I’ve had situations where my normal delays sound way too loud not having changed a thing on my end. The cause was a widener effect the tech had on my guitar channel messing with the left/right perception.
As a performer, it’s good to have a basic understanding of these technical things so you can dial in a mix that is inspirational to you. The result will allow you to be more in the moment, more focused on your craft and will yield more creativity in your playing and/or singing. It can be pure bliss and few things in life are better than making amazing music with amazing people and having it sound perfect. I hope some of these ideas will help you know how to get the sound YOU want for your next gig!
Leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts and feel free to ask me any questions on this topic!