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How To Communicate With Your Monitor Engineer – Mark Hadman


How To Communicate With Your Monitor Engineer:

(a brusque guide for bands stepping up to the slightly-less-small-time)

Hi, I’m the guy sat at the on-stage mixing desk. What’s that, you didn’t even know that was a thing? Yes, that’s how we do things at ‘serious’ club level – one guy for the ‘front-of-house’ sound and another for the stage monitors. It’s what touring bands expect once the venue holds more than a couple of hundred people.

During line-check, while the front-of-house sound engineer is calling out individual instruments, it’s a good idea to be building your monitor mix. If you want (for example) kick drum in your wedge, stick a finger in the air while it’s being line checked, and keep it there til you’ve got enough.
During soundcheck songs or the show, point at / mime* / mouth / yell the name of the instrument in question, along with ‘up’ or ‘down’. It’s that simple. It’s helpful if you confirm that the change I made was useful, by a nod or a smile – that way I can stop focusing my attention on you specifically and go back to general alertness mode. There’s no need to point at the wedge you’re stood on top of, which I might well misinterpret as ‘turn it down!’. Also don’t try to be polite: ‘More me!’, whether yelled, mouthed or mimed, is a lot less work for me to process than a muffled ‘could I possibly have a little more of my guitar in my monitor, please?’, and frees up more of the noisy stage’s limited communcation bandwidth for the needs of your fellow musicians. Riffing on the same theme: if you need a shit-tonne (10-12 dB) more, then do ask for a shit-tonne rather than ‘a bit’ or ‘a hair’ (2-4 dB). By all means approach the desk if it’s a more complex issue.

Resist the temptation to exclaim ‘I can’t hear anything!’. It’s terribly unhelpful, and if you really can’t hear anything at all you probably shouldn’t be on stage in the first place, equal opportunities aside. Also, it’s probably best not to ask upfront for ‘a bit of everything’ if you’re a band with drums and amplifiers playing on a small to medium sized stage. If you don’t know what I mean by ‘small to medium’, I mean any stage where you do your own line check. Oh, and nobody has high hat / cymbals / toms or reverb in their monitor wedge (except those that do, obviously).


* Guitar, keyboard, vocal and snare are straightforward enough mimes. For bass guitar, mime fingerpicking from above with two fingers. For kick drum, pound your fist into your chest or other (flat) hand. For backing tracks, make a circle with your finger like a spinning tape reel or CD. And if you can’t get a hand free to mime, do try my lipreading skills!


Mark Hadman is a Sheffield based live sound engineer.  This piece was originally posted on Mark’s blog here, in which you can also read all about a day in the life of a sound engineer.


Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


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