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Big Band? Use Multiple Monitor Mixes

6:00 am Live Sound

For a three-piece acoustic act, a single monitor speaker might be enough to provide adequate stage sound for everyone in the band. A fancy (or widely spaced) setup might need two or even three monitors to do the job. These are normally all driven by the same signal, with the mix determined by the sound man at the FOH (Front-Of-House) position.

But when your band grows from four, to five, to six members and beyond, you are going to need a lot of monitor speakers. (Anyone who has worked with a six-piece or larger band is already familiar with the concept of a lot of equipment.)

It turns out that as the band grows, the need for different monitor mixes for different band members grows with it. It may be a matter of a performer properly hearing her counterpart who happens to be on the other side of the stage and can’t hear her over the general din either. Or someone playing a specialized instrument may need to hear specific cues from specific other players to stay in sync. In any case, here’s an easy way to set up a pair of independent onstage monitor mixes using equipment you are probably already using or have on hand.

Two For the Show

This diagram show the way the band I run sound for, Rusty Strings, sets up its speaker connections at a typical live show:

(Click the figure for a PDF version.)

The key to creating the two monitor mixes is to use the mixer’s Aux Send 1 ouput for one of them, and the Aux Send 2 output for the other. (Don’t worry about the Returns that match these Sends; we are using them as “outputs only” so there is no Return!) Make sure that all of the Aux Sends are set to Pre-Fader, so that changes made to the main mix will not affect the monitor levels onstage.

The one extra piece of equipment you will need for this scheme is an additional power amplifier. Typically a band will use a dual-channel power amplifier, with one side used for the main speakers and the other side used for the monitors. Here, we need both sides of that dual-channel amplifier for the two monitor mixes, so you will need an additional power amplifier for the main speakers. This could be a dual-channel unit run in “bridged” mode for extra output power.

Notice that there is a separate cable run from the main amplifier to the main speakers, whereas the two monitor signals are sent through the snake. (The many other connections to the snake and its stage box are omitted here for clarity.) See my article Mini-Tip: Send Monitor Signals On the Snake for a brief discussion of this practice.  The “19″ and “20″ in the diagram represent the snake channels we use for the monitors.

It may be possible to connect more than two speakers to the main amp, or more than four to the monitor amp, depending on the output impedance ratings of the specific amplifier you are using. See my article Connecting Multiple Speakers to a PA System for more info on driving multiple speakers with a single output or channel.

Once you have everything set up, you (i.e. the sound man) can have the joy of getting not one but two monitor mixes right and keeping them that way. With the Rusty Strings setup, the Aux Send 1 knob for each channel strip controls the level of that channel in the two monitor speakers on the left side of the stage, whereas the Aux Send 2 knob controls its level in the two monitor speakers on the right side of the stage.

With this setup, it is very helpful, even crucial, to have some kind of soundcheck that will give you and the band some time to home in on at least approximately correct settings for all those Send knobs. And during the show, don’t forget which Send knobs affect which monitor speakers!

Note: If you are using powered monitor speakers, you can still use this trick, but with two variations: (1) you won’t need the two-channel power amplifier shown in the diagram, so just run the Aux Send signals directly down the snake; and (2) you will have to check your speaker manual so find out how to “daisy-chain” your multiple powered speakers together (it is not a simple parallel connection as with passive speakers).

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