Who decides what is in a monitor mix and how loud it will be? Is it the sound operator or the musician/vocalist using the monitor? First, a little education – a monitor mix should not mimic the main (house) mix, nor should it include every audio source available from the console. The purpose of a monitor mix is to fill in the missing information (sound) so the musician/vocalist can play/sing in time, on key and blend with everyone else. It is not so they can hear their own personal “show”. The monitor system and mix is in place to make up for the fact that multiple musicians/vocalists who are spread apart from each other (or in some cases, too close) can’t hear everything they need to. (Although this could be remedied with proper acoustics, placement of the musicians/vocalists and “perfect” musicians/vocalists these are not things most churches (or even professional performance halls) can attain.)
There are few sound operators who, using their experience with the system, room and musicians/vocalists can provide the perfect monitor mix for those needing it. The operator is not on the platform, they are not hearing what those people hear, and they have no way to judge the volume level (even if they can get the mix “just right”). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an operator say something like “but the knob is set at 6, where we always have it!” Along with this, the sound operator must pay close attention to those on the platform during a service or event. They must watch for cues that someone can’t hear and actively make adjustments to quickly fix the situation. This is why it’s called “running” sound and not “standing-at-the-console-just-watching” sound.
Although it’s important for the sound operator to pay close attention to how changes in the monitor mix affect the sound in the house (for the congregation), it’s even more important they pay attention to the needs and wants of the musicians/vocalists. If those on the platform claim they can’t hear, help them out! Check the physical placement of the monitors (if floor or stand monitors are used), take a walk to the platform (while someone else watches the console) and take a listen for yourself to hear exactly what they’re hearing.
Keep in mind the acoustics of the room determines exactly what and how people hear things, and that no monitor adjustments can overcome the detrimental effects of acoustical problems. Also, there comes a point when the volume level of the monitors, though possibly correct for the musicians/vocalists, negatively affects what the congregation hears; this must be avoided.
We’ll discuss an easy method for setting monitor mixes and levels in a future blog entry or article.
Blank Video Screens? No Way!
Whether it’s a projected image or video display unit, there is rarely an instance when the screen should be blank or without an image. The exceptions include when the systems are turned off, the facility isn’t being used, it is rehearsal or you’re trying to ensure people’s attention is focused elsewhere.
Most churches have no problem displaying photos, information (past/current/future events) or video clips before a service or event. This is a great way to pass on information people may not read in the bulletin. A slide showing a photo of each pastor with their name may even be used to help visitors learn more about the church. When the service starts, a simple splash screen with the church name and/or logo can be displayed. If someone verbally gives announcements, the screen can reflect these same announcements (or the church name/logo can remain). During congregational singing time, the words to the current song are typically displayed. Before, between and after songs there is no reason for the screens to be blank. Blank means a single static color or nothing at all. Whether a song title is displayed or once again, the church name/logo, something should be on the screen. During prayer times, a list of those in need of prayer could be displayed. During the offering images from past events (with text labels) or announcements can be displayed. During special music a still or video image with the title of the song could be shown. During the message being given the message title, series title, notes and/or scripture references can be displayed. After the service, upcoming events and information can once again be shown, or instructions to visitors where they can pick up additional information.
Video displays can be very powerful when it comes to delivering information, be sure you’re making the best use of the system you have.
What does the back of your equipment look like? Is it a mess of cables resembling a bowl of spaghetti, or is it neat and orderly, complete with labels on every cable? Although spaghetti-like installations may be acceptable for a one-time use portable system or special setup, it’s not acceptable for a permanent installation. Every cable connected to a piece of equipment should be labeled (near the connector) and laced into place. “Every cable” includes not only those carrying signals (audio/video/etcetera), but power cables as well. A clean installation means there is less chance of cables being pulled out of jacks, it’s easier to troubleshoot problems, provides clear sight lines when installing/upgrading equipment and some may argue it provides better air flow to keep equipment cool. Careful routing of the laced cables can also result in an audio system that operates with less noise (hum and buzz).