More Benefits for Separate Monitor Systems

I caught this article over on ProSoundWeb today, and it adds yet another beneficial dimension (with some overlap) to what I was talking about in an earlier post.  In the article, the author (Tim Andras) points out the benefits from the FOH engineer point of view.  I have been virtually weighted equally in time spent on both sides of the mix console over the years and there is no question that mixing monitors from the FOH causes tension for both the engineer and musician alike. 

If not for anything else, the lack of communication that exists between the stage and FOH is a result of a combination of lighting (or a lack thereof…), the inability to hear what the other is saying and the fact that the engineer is focused on his or her job, and that is mixing audio for the mains.  As an engineer, it is a rapidly frustrating situation trying to dial in a mix during sound check when the band stops and not just one, but two, three or more members start barking changes they need in their monitors over the system.  This not only disturbs the engineer’s workflow, but also is typically un-organized.  Combine this with the fact that as I pointed out in my previous post, FOH consoles are not set up, nor intended to provide any useful monitoring in the first place.  This scenario frustrates the musician as well when the typically brief sound check leaves the monitors at the bottom of the priority list.  Bad monitor mix on stage makes for unhappy musicians…

Separate monitor and FOH systems should be a requirement for any serious musician who performs live, whether solo or a group; this configuration is not just for “larger” acts, and the pricing to get into a separate monitor system can be on par with what your current system cost in the first place.  This simply requires a different mode of thinking when planning the configuration of your next system.  If you include this requirement, both sides of the FOH will be happier, everyone getting what they want and need, which is a win-win for all when the set begins.

TSM Roadmap

I needed to post an update, letting you all know what’s on deck here at The Smart Musician.  Over the past couple of months, a handful of podcasts have been released, and I have been sorting through a sea of concepts and ideas for content—topics that are relevant, delivery format of the content (podcast, vidcast, blog posts, streaming, etc…) as well as the release schedule.   All of this on top of trying to find a groove in producing the podcasts and attempting to maintain consistency.  The engine hasn’t been running at 100%, but we keep moving ahead.

The main components that are being targeted in the coming weeks include continuing to build out the weekly podcasts as well as a couple new shows: The TSM Interviews and The TSM Sessions.  The TSM Interviews will be just that—interviews featuring musicians, producers, engineers as well as people on the business side of things—anyone involved in the process of making and performing music.

The TSM Sessions will be live performance sessions featuring different musicians, songwriters, groups, etc…while this is a general concept right now, it is one that I am excited about and am in the initial conceptual planning stages.

At this point, the frequency of these 2 new shows is yet to be determined, but more information will be released as these projects develop.  The weekly podcast will continue to be in an evolutionary mode as it is iteratively developed and grows in the coming weeks.  Lastly, the blog will become more active in the coming weeks as I work on routing and curating the large amount of info that comes across my feeds daily.

With all of the projects and concepts being developed at TSM, there will continue to be an emphasis on the technical side of our craft, as well as on creatively using technology in all aspects of your music career—not just focusing on music gear, but also on all of the other tasks and activities that go into managing your music operation a a whole.

As with anything here at [the] Smart Musician, any input or feedback is not only welcome, but encouraged.  I am excited about the things that are in the queue and hope you will share in this excitement as these new offerings are rolled out over the coming weeks and months.

Live Monitoring Systems are 1st Class Citizens…or Should be

I was just reading through an article over at ProSoundWeb that struck a chord with me.  Over the years, most of the bands I have seen or even played in treat their stage monitoring systems as an afterthought—buying monitor gear with whatever is leftover in the budget, if anything, after buying front of house gear.

The problem with this is that your monitoring system, and the quality it delivers, means the difference between a great sound on stage and a train wreck.  As musicians, we are an inherently creative bunch, driven on stage by inspiration in the moment.  For me, the quality, control, and confidence that you get through the headphones when recording in the studio is huge; it sounds great, I can hear everything, and the inspiration of that environment drives my performance.  The same thing can—and should—happen on stage, and I would argue that it is even more important there.

The fact is that the common scenario is one where the band’s instruments and backline, monitor system (floor wedges) and FOH all compete, with all of them competing upward (in volume) until it is a complete wash of sound.  Putting some thought, planning and consideration into the monitoring setup can be a huge step in bringing the levels into a tolerable range and allow the room to be balanced out with the proper mix.

In my experience, there are a couple of key factors that have worked, which I will never turn back from going forward:

  1. Separate Monitor MixesThis is key…and also where most bands neglect.  Main mix consoles are not designed fundamentally to provide monitoring on the scale that most bands really need.  How many of you use most of your aux sends on your front of house board to feed monitors??  That’s not what they were really intended for…A separate monitor board, at the very least, is crucial.  In order for this to work, a splitter snake is required, feeding both the FOH and the monitor board with the lines from the stage.  Having the monitor board accessible to the band is important, unless you’re fortunate enough to have a monitor engineer to manage your mixes.Having the ability for each member to build their own mix without stepping on their band mates is an incredibly liberating experience, allowing everyone to be free, in their zone, to perform without inhibition.
  2. In-Ear MonitorsHaving your own mix is excellent…having it in stereo, with complete isolation and no “bleed” from the rest of the band’s monitors or backline?  Nothing short of awesome!  This is like the studio experience I mentioned earlier.  Several years ago, feeling strongly about the difference it would make with my band, I sprung for in-ear monitors for everyone.  Once the band, as a whole, experienced them, none of us ever looked back.  The quality was unlike any monitor system we had ever had, and combined with the ability for each of us to control our own mix—which we had never had before, we actually improved on many fronts.  There was no more volume-induced paralysis, and the detail that we could hear actually uncovered mistakes we were making individually, causing us to actually correct those musical and technical flaws, leaving the end result in a massively improved state of quality.IEM’s also took one of the volume competitors out of the race, and put a second one in a distant last place…let me explain—putting the monitors directly in our ears eliminated the need for speakers, therefore removing the volume created by our wedges.  Secondly, the isolation created by IEM’s removed the need for any amplifiers to be cranked at the volumes we were accustomed to, putting that volume source way down on the scale.  What this did was allow the FOH to operate without the hindrances and competition of loud stage volume, which carries another huge benefit—club owners and managers love you.  We even had a complaint one night early on that we didn’t have enough volume in the house, and they asked us to crank it up.  When’s the last time you’ve heard that??  The fact is that we had our ears up at a comfortable volume, so we couldn’t perceive the disparity between our volume and that of the house.  It’s a great feeling knowing that you have plenty of headroom in the house to satisfy just about any club.There is one other benefit that needs to be pointed out, and that is hearing safety and preservation.  While I am not going to go into details about how IEM’s can actually help prevent hearing loss, I can tell you that since using them, and even at what I perceived to be a slightly high volume at times, I no longer experience threshold deafness after playing.

I will go into more details about IEM’s and configurations in a future post as there are so many options and the cost of entry is not unreasonable, in fact, it turned out to be cheaper than the power amp/wedge setup we had previously, which was not in stereo (which is not a prerequisite, but a massive feature—if you have stereo and then switch to mono, you will be racing back to stereo…trust me…), did not have separate mixes, and possibly more importantly, we no longer broke our backs carrying a rack full of power amps and wedges (speakers)—and that means an easier load-in, less space in the trailer, less maintenance—the list goes on.  Additionally, IEM’s also mean that our monitor mixes are consistent from room to room, so no matter where we play, it sounds the same…consistently great quality with little effort.  What this does is make for much smoother sound checks, and in the event that we can’t get one, at least we are able to play consistently (and sound good at least to ourselves, until the FOH engineer gets the mix dialed in…)

Lastly, whether or not you go with IEM’s or not, having a well thought out monitoring system is, in my opinion, a key component for any band playing on a regular basis.  In fact, I view this type of monitoring system to be as equally important as the instrument/gear we use.  Many, if not most, clubs have house systems, but the monitor systems are severely lacking.  By bringing in our own monitoring system, we are not at the mercy of the venue when it comes to our stage setup and sound.  While this is not at all to say that FOH is not important—it absolutely is—but the band that is not happy with the way they sound on stage will ultimately reflect that in their performance.  It’s time that more bands put their hard earned cash into their monitor system and finally make it a 1st class citizen in their gear arsenal.

 

Episode #5 :: Podcast Refactoring

This abbreviated episode talks briefly about shifts in the direction of The Smart Musician podcast, blog and new features in the works.

There will be more announcements in the next few days.  We are working on making this a valuable contribution to the independent music community.

 

Episode #4 :: Creative Challenges

This week we cover a few of the songwriting challenge initiatives that are available for musicians, bands and songwriters that provide an opportunity to create new music as well as collaborate with others in the music community, and build relationships along the way.

We also talk about a new web app available to demo microphones and get purchasing recommendations.

Episode #3 :: Music Industry in Flux

2011 is shaping up to be a year of fundamental changes in how the music industry does business.  This week’s episode touches on some of the news of the past week that serve as evidence of this change, as well as examples of intelligent and creative use of technology and tools to address a challenging audio scenario, and 8 things that can and will go wrong at a gig.

Episode #2

This week we continue to get the momentum going, talk about the distractions of technology, the need for the independent musician to approach endeavors as a business, the lack of technical resources geared specifically for the gigging musician and the Smart Musician mobile application that is currently being developed.

Episode #1 :: Introduction

In this first episode of [the] Smart Musician podcast, Tom gives a very short and sweet introduction to the show and invites listeners to share comments, suggestions and info about themselves and their musical endeavors.

Listeners can find Tom on Twitter, leave comments or sign up for email updates at thesmartmusician.com, and coming soon on Facebook.