In my early years as a volunteer “Sound Guy” at my local Church I had the opportunity to mix sound for a wonderfully talented worship leader/pastor. David had the ability to engage the congregation at a number of different spiritual levels, and at the same time he could play guitar and sing as well as anyone I have ever met. However my challenge at the time was in mixing and maintaining an adequate monitor mix for David, as well as those who performed alongside of David in the worship band.
At the time we were limited to only two separate monitor feeds where we used Monitor 1 for the instrumentalists (drummer, bass, guitar, keyboard) to share. Monitor 2 was for the vocalists, which included David, who also played lead acoustic guitar. So the objective (as it is for any monitor mix) was to ensure the mix was a fair balance of what most everyone needed to hear, while ensuring that at the very least all the vocalists could hear themselves in the mix enough so they could keep in tune with each other.
My challenge from a sound perspective was that David would typically always need more of his vocals or his acoustic guitar in Monitor 2. Where I (and everyone else) would think it sounded fairly good, David would always want more of either his vocal or his guitar. In any event it provided me with a great deal of experience in the art of diplomacy, in working with David to ensure he was comfortable with what he was hearing in his mix, but to also ensure that the others who were sharing that same mix did not get totally lost in the mix.
At times it could be as simple as not turning the level up on what David was asking for, but to instead turn the level down on some other parts of the mix that would allow David to hear himself better. While at other times employing a little audio misdirection would do the trick. Specifically, it was sometime enough to wave to David with your hand on the sound board, and ask him if that was now better as I pretended to adjust whatever level he was asking for more of. David might still ask for a little more, which I would again promptly adjust by the same amount (0). More times than not, this would be enough to make David more than happy with what he was hearing. To be fair I would generally try and adjust the levels if David needed something, but if it was compromising things to the extent that David’s vocals and guitar was all that could be heard in the mix then a little misdirection could sometimes yield the best compromise.
Fast forward to today. We made the move to a digital console about 5 years ago, and at the same time made the decision to move to personal mixers, rather than the standard floor wedges that we had utilized for the 15 years prior to that.
While I would say transitioning to an in-ear personal monitor mix was not without it challenges, as it’s certainly a different experience for the performers, and it requires training to get to the point where performers start to get comfortable with setting up their own mix. But the number of problems it has helped us solve has been well worth the investment for us.
The most significant change for us is the ability for every performer to be able to customize what they are hearing for what they need to listen to, and without the need for a sound guy to do this for them. A close second from a benefit point of view, is the reduction in the overall level of the stage volume with the elimination of the large floor wedges, and this in turn make it so much easier to mix the front of house as we are no longer battling with the level of the monitor mix.
Coincidentally we still have one guitar player who does not like ear buds, but we have giving him a small powered monitor that is hooked into his own personal mixer, so it is still quieter than the old floor wedges that we had in place and he can still mix his own levels for what he needs. Our old floor wedges still do get dragged out on occasion for various events, but we use in-ear personal monitors now for about 95% of everything we now do.