Most seasoned players are familiar with the basic monitor setup for a band – two to four monitor speakers, one or two amps, a 31-band equalizer on each monitor channel and all the cords necessary to hook everything up to the mixer. We won’t go into these basic elements here, but instead we’re going to focus on the solutions that many bands have found to their monitoring problems. The biggest problems that most bands have are feedback and the need for more volume for their particular instrument or vocals.
You have several options for eliminating feedback: using wireless in-ear monitors, trying higher-end mics, using monitor cabinets with bigger amps, or adding digital signal processors and high-quality equalizers to your system. Some mics, such as Audix, feature reduced feedback right out of the box due to their proprietary design of the mic’ing element. Many high-volume bands have switched to these designs. The Audix OM3, OM5 and OM6 are all good choices, depending on your vocal style. There are also some less expensive models and brands available that produce good results, but skimping on your mics is generally not the best idea.
Better quality monitor speakers and larger amps are a good choice when trying to improve your system in a more traditional way. Larger amps can push your speakers more cleanly with less distortion and are generally the deciding factor in how loud your monitors will be while still sounding good. As a rule, an amplifier that clips constantly will blow a speaker faster than running too large of an amplifier on the same speaker.
This may start some arguments, but I have found that using an amp with a power rating about double of what the speaker calls for works pretty well. My clients are usually very happy and I have fewer blown speakers caused by amp problems. A technique I see performers increasingly turning to is the combination of in-ear monitors with a regular floor wedge setup. This usually works best for loud guitar bands where the lead singer has a hard time hearing his own voice over the band. Usually, the singers only have their voice through the in-ears and use ear buds that allow some of the stage sound to come through. When the singers can hear the nuances of their voices, they don’t have to work their voices so hard. This setup can be done easily without modification to the monitor system or adding any mix outputs on the board, by either “passing through” or using a Y-cable to feed the in-ear unit.
The ideal system would be to have the whole band on in-ear monitors with digital IEM processors (like the dbx IEM unit), but sometimes guitar players don’t care for this. The best setup, in terms of cost and performance, for a medium to loud rock band playing in a club would be to have the lead singer on in-ear monitors and sending the backup vocalists – usually the bass and guitar players – through monitors called “sidefills,” since they reside at the side of the stage. These could be older PA cabinets, but I suggest something like a JBL dual 15” speaker and horn cabinet on each side. This way everyone on stage can get plenty of kick and vocals, and vocalists on each side of the stage can hear their own singing with a smattering of the remaining vocals mixed in. If the stage isn’t too large even the drummer can get enough sound that he can forgo his own wedge and mix.
One last monitoring tip for the road: I have been using dbx DriveRacks religiously for the last few years on my monitoring rigs. They can be set up quickly once you learn the programming and feature compression for speaker protection, feedback suppression and an onboard equalizer (31-band graphic and parametric). You can even save programs for venues you play at regularly, so when you get it dialed in you can keep it for next time.
Till next time, be loud and be proud!