It’s one of ‘those phrases’ that you hear time and time again, on stages up and down country, at all levels. The band steps up to sound check and the engineer asks “what do you need in your monitor?”
The obvious answer is “a little bit of everything”. This is the wrong answer.
Here’s why you don’t need a little bit of everything in your monitor – and hopefully this article will be helpful to bands as well as engineers. On a stage you have a lot of instruments, some louder and some quieter, all pointing into the audience, and being miked/amplified for *their* benefit. Each musician is going to need to hear themselves clearly – and also hear some context (what’s going on around them). Most musicians will take their cues from the lead vocal, and other key instruments (drums & bass will lock in, guitar & keys will play off each other, backing vocalists need to hear the harmony to get their pitch). It makes sense that the quieter instruments need some help.
However – the danger comes when the monitor mixes get crowded; the singer can’t hear themselves over the keyboard, the drummer can’t hear the bass because there’s too much lead guitar; the lead guitar can’t hear themselves because the rhythm is too loud…
So what’s the solution? While it’s true that everybody needs to *hear* a little of everybody else – that doesn’t mean they need it in the wedge (or IEM) mix. Personally, I usually start with the unamplified or quiet acoustic sources (vocals, DI keyboards, acoustic guitars, fiddle, flute, sax etc) and feed enough of that back to the player (in their OWN monitor!) so that they can hear themselves. From there I will run a soundcheck (that’s half a song, verse/chorus for example), and see how everyone feels. Often, that is enough for everyone else onstage – each musican hears themselves pretty loud, and they can hear the other musicians because they, also, have themselves prominently onstage. As the stages get bigger, there’s more need for ‘a litte bit of…’ in the monitor – but you’ll be amazed when you move towards having less – not more – onstage, how clear your foldback mix can become.