As a volunteer audio monitor mixer at my church, Northview Church, I can't tell you how many times my pastor has come to the soundboard to talk about overall loudness, muddy vocals, or feedbackthings I wasn't hearing forty feet away in the balcony. A great solution for this is the use of personal monitor mixers for the band and vocalists.
All personal mixers have the same end goal: they enable the musician or vocalist to build their own mix. This reduces the need for the sound guy to use up valuable rehearsal time making adjustments for each person in the band.
Personal monitor mixers have been around for years but, like an expensive wine, they have gotten better with time. As the technology has improved, features have been added and the number of manufacturers has increased. Today, there is a product in almost every budget range.
Monitor Mixer Components
Regardless of the manufacturer, all personal monitor mixer systems include three main components: the input module, the distribution system, and the stage mixer.
The input module is the device that converts the audio to digital for transmission over CAT5 cable. Most brands can make use of several interfaces enabling wider coverage of consoles. The most common ones are rack-mountable and accommodate ¼ cable connections to come out of the soundboard. Once digital consoles started to become more prevalent, many manufactures began creating digital options. This enabled the CAT5 cable to be directly plugged into the console, bypassing the need for the external converter.
Distribution of the CAT5 signal depends solely on the brand. Some, like myMix, can use standard power-over-Ethernet (POE) switches while others require a proprietary network switch.
Finally, the stage mixer is the unit with which your band will interact. The features these units employ are increasingly impressive. The include things like an ambient mic built in to the control unit (from Roland) or access of up to 40 channels.
Two Systems for Extra Channels
Allow me to share how I setup my system. At my church, to combat the channel limitations of our Aviom mixers, we installed two systems: one for the vocal team and one for the band. This gives each of system 16 channels. For the band, they have significant control over drums while all of the background vocalists are mixed to a single channel. The vocalists have the drums all mixed to one channel and employ independent vocalists channels.
Another thing we did to improve the band's experience was installing a monitor console for gain sharing.
I never thought I would like the idea of the band mixing their own monitors. Maybe that was because I was a stick-in-the-mud monitor engineer, but over time, even with having a monitor console, I have grown to appreciate the use of the personal mixer. They really can save time and create a great experience for the band.