How many of you have not heard complaints about the sound in your auditorium or sanctuary? Anyone?
As anticipated, I'm not seeing any hands raised, so this article is for you.
While your first instinct might be that your PA system needs to be evaluated, the true culprit might actually be the monitor system your musicians use for hearing themselves. If they are using monitor speakers on stage, the volume coming from those speakers can cause lots of problems with the sound quality out in the room, creating a muddy sound, painful frequencies and possibly volume levels much higher than desired as the sound tech tries to get the PA system audible over the volume of the stage monitors.
There's a Solution for That
"A personal monitor system gives each musician the ability to mix their own monitors and delivers their mix directly to their ears through headphones or earbuds," states Jim Thorne, president of Messenger Media Systems in Conyers, Georgia. "It quiets (and possibly eliminates) the stage volume giving the house audio engineer more control over what is being heard by the congregation, providing an improved mix, resulting in the experience of the congregant being more consistent and enjoyable."
"When you can hear the house system with more clarity," adds Joe Bunting, regional sales manager at Clair Solutions in Manheim, Pennsylvania, "you don't feel the need to turn it up as loud which leads to fewer complaints from the senior congregation." With a personal monitor mix system most musicians will be able to manage their own monitor mix, which leads to benefits for both what the congregation hears as well as what the musicians hear. "Prior to installing a personal monitor mixing system the audio tech needed to divide their time between many mixes with only one of them being what the congregation hears," states Duke DeJong, director of sales and marketing for CCI Solutions in Olympia, Washington.
"Now they can focus on creating a great mix for the audience without having to split time between the band and the audience. Additionally, now the musicians have the ability to add whatever they need in their mix, whenever they need it. They are able to act quickly on what they need and don't have to wait for an audio tech to be available." How It Works Personal monitor mix systems come in a variety of configurations. In a hardware-based system, each musician gets their own small mixer that enables them to mix a set of audio channels into a sound that best enables them to play.
The typical number of channels is 16, although some manufactures provide many more. If you have more channels of audio from the band than your personal monitor mixer can handle, the audio tech would create some sub-mixes of channels to send to one channel of the personal monitor mixers. For example, they may take the numerous microphones used on the drum kit and send one complete drum mix to the personal monitoring system.
Or, perhaps they will sub-mix the backup vocalists and send one channel of those vocals. The musicians then use headphones, ear buds or custom-molded in-ear monitors to listen to their mix thus eliminating the need for speakers on-stage they are no longer fighting to hear their mix over other musicians' mixes, they can keep the volume at a comfortable level for themselves, and eliminating the sound from the monitor mix coming out into the room.
Choosing a System
Aviom is the original pioneer in personal monitor mixers and are still considered a leader in the industry. Their system is designed to work with just about any audio mixing console. Other companies such as Allen & Heath make a system that is designed for use with their own brand of mixers, but can also be used with other company's mixers.
Tablet and Smart Phone Options
Another approach to personal monitor systems is through software control. Most current digital audio mixers allow smart phones and tablets to control a monitor mix. "This method has all of the benefits of having personal mixers," comments DeJong, "like having individual mixes per person, giving musicians control over what goes into their mix, and keeping the FOH operator free to mix the house mix. It also can be the most cost effective method as there is potentially less hardware to purchase." The only needed hardware is a Wi-Fi router and a way to get their mix from the audio console into their ears, which can be done through wireless in-ear systems or inexpensive headphone amplifiers.
There are some cons to this approach as well. "Consoles have limited numbers of monitor mixes," adds DeJong, "so there are a limited number of individual mixes available. And it relies on wireless networking control being solid and reliable." It's also less convenient for musicians than having actual knobs and buttons you can reach over and manipulate quickly.
Prepare the Way
While installing a personal monitor system has many advantages, there are some challenges as well. "I've seen challenges when leadership chooses to install a personal monitoring system and the musicians put forth some resistance because it's unfamiliar ground," comments Thorne. Using a personal monitor system takes some training, and musicians need to learn how to create a good audio mix for themselves. Usually this is easier than they expect, but they need time to get over the learning curve. Another challenge is the musicians may now feel "cut off" from the congregation because they might not be able to hear what's going on in the room very well. "Without an ambient room microphone," states Bunting, "musicians have to adjust to headphones or in-ear monitors because they no longer hear ambient room sounds.
Some personal monitor mixers have an ambient mic built into them and this easily eliminates this challenge." The important thing to recognize is that while most musicians come to love having personal monitor mixers, it's a huge change from having wedge monitor speakers and someone creating your mix for you.
Make sure you have the system installed at a time where the musicians can schedule extra rehearsals to get used to the personal monitor mixers before having to deal with them during an actual worship service. Ideally, being able to have both your old system and the new personal monitoring system functional at the same time will let the musicians get used to it during rehearsals before using it for a service. And lastly, communicate ahead of time why this change is being made and how it will benefit the church's effectiveness in ministry.