Mixing Monitors for Worship - Part 1

By Leon Sievers
Sound Professional
February 26, 2024

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Stage volume is a serious problem in establishing a good house mix. If the mix in the monitors is rough or weak, then musicians and vocalists “turn up” and eventually the spill from the stage finds its way into your mix as a phantom center channel.  So mixing the monitors correctly is the quickest way to improve your house sound.  It is also the quickest way to make friends and earn the respect of your worship team.

The objective in establishing a good monitor mix is to provide the worship team with the necessary information they need to maintain their vocal balance and keep time. Sometimes this means giving them the entire band in their mix. Others only need to hear their own vocals or maybe the guitar and keyboard. If the drums happen to be behind shields you may add the hi hat or kick to keep time. All of this should be accomplished while keeping stage levels to a bare minimum.

There are a few essential items necessary to mixing stage monitors. There are also several ways to arrive at a good mix depending on the equipment you have to work with. Let’s begin with the monitors themselves. Quantity and quality play a big part in a successful stage mix. You will need at least one monitor for every vocal position. That does not mean for each vocalist, but rather for each piece of real estate occupied by a vocalist. Often the vocalists can share a monitor while it is more difficult for the singing musicians to occupy the same small space.  Since the goal here is to reduce the ambient sound level from the stage, smaller monitors go a long way towards keeping SPL in check. This means saying no to double 15”woofers and yes to monitors which use 10” or 12” low frequency components. Look for monitors, which use a real compression driver and horn rather than a peizo tweeter. Remember you are trying to re-produce the vocal region as faithfully as the budget will allow and full range fifteen-inch woofer and simple tweeters are not designed for the task at hand.  Monitors that use a passive crossover, minimize your need for extra equipment such as electronic crossovers and multiple amplifiers. They also sound good out of the box and need fewer technical adjustments once installed. Bi amplified monitors can offer a higher degree of performance, but they come at considerable additional cost. 

Now assuming we have an acceptable monitor speaker, how do we go about “mixing” the sound? Depending on the equipment or available budget to upgrade, there are three likely scenarios. The first is to use a split snake, which allows you to take the signal from the stage and send it to separate house and monitor mixing consoles. This method can accommodate a larger number of mixes and more control over “who” hears “what.” Usually this monitor console would be located on or near the stage permitting the engineer his own perception of what the stage levels are. The drawback is that it requires another person to operate the equipment and for some churches additional equipment to setup and tear down.

Many church engineers mix the monitors using the aux send(s) located on the front of house or F.O.H. console. There are different ways to mix monitors using the FOH console. I recommend using the aux sends which are pre-eq and pre fader. Using the Pre eq aux sends because the selective equalization that you apply to a channel using the main speakers as your reference would not translate well to the monitors. Likewise, a little more “shine” in the drum monitor might be too much in the house. Pre fader aux send(s) are unaffected by the changes made by the house engineer to the channel faders of the house mix. I find that this method is relatively easy for the novice to learn and makes it more difficult for the engineer to get into trouble during the service. By adjusting the aux send level control for each individual channel, you can direct the vocal or instrument to as many separate mixes as you have aux sends, amplifier channels and monitors. Usually at least the aux 1 and aux 2 send(s) can be used in this configuration. Most often you would offer at least two mixes to the stage. I usually identify front stage monitors as aux 2 and rear stage monitors as aux 1. This physical relationship on the board is easy to remember as it correlates to the stage. While this sounds more complicated than it really is, most console manufacturers give you a play by play description of this method in their owners manual.

There is still another solution with it’s own unique benefits for church applications. Most modern consoles offer ¼” insert jacks along side their XLR inputs. These inserts can also function as a signal splitter. When a ¼” cable is inserted partway into the insert jack, the signal is split off from the inputs following the input trim. (See your owner’s manual for this feature.) If your console is capable of this function, you can connect individual sources from the FOH console to another smaller and inexpensive mixer located adjacent to the house console. By splitting only the signal from the channel you want, and patching it into the adjacent monitor console, you can have complete control over the stage mix including gain structure, channel equalization and multiple mix outputs. This method can be used to expand your existing control and improve the quality of the stage mix without the need for another mix location or dedicated monitor engineer. 

By giving the worship team the things that they need to hear clearly and controlling the stage level of the monitors, you will find that the band will also control the level of their instruments. Spend time mixing the worship team during practice and experiment with different things in their mix to find the blend that works best for them. Your efforts will be rewarded with lower stage volumes, a cleaner house mix and ultimately a better worship experience.

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