Ultimate Ears | In-Ear Monitors for Musicians & Sound Engineers

The Fundamentals of Personal Monitoring. How to Create a Solid Mix.

Ultimate Ears Stories | Digital Audio Labs

Personal Monitoring 101 pt. 1

Brought to you by the makers of Livemix.

DAL has been in the game since the 1980’s when digital audio was just emerging. They have always been known for incredible sound and build quality. So much so that some of their initial boxes are still our working in the field. You don’t hear that everyday. So when they talk about how to build a solid in-ear monitor mix, we pay attention.

They got back in the personal monitor game with Livemix.  A monitoring system that is simple enough for those just starting out,  but robust enough to meet the demands of a pro.

We wanted them to bring some knowledge to the yard about personal mixing. Take it away y’all!

Personal Mixing 101: Start your mix with a good foundation

If you are unfamiliar with personal monitoring systems, it’s time to get up to speed. Personal monitor systems allow each performer to have a mix with as much “me” as they want without conflicting with their neighbor. They can allow you to take most if not all the monitors off the stage, reducing clutter and more importantly reducing the fight between stage volume and the house mix. There are so many fantastic benefits to personal monitors, it is hard to find reason not to jump right in.

Personal monitor mixing can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, you are allowing everyone to make their own mix. But on the other hand, you are allowing everyone to make their own mix.  For the tech and front of house folks, personal monitors mean you don’t have to spend so much time hearing “Can I get more of Me?” While the performers get the benefit of getting as much “me” as they want.  

The challenge is that we are now asking people unfamiliar with mixing to mix as many as 24 channels.  And while it may not take a technical degree, it’s a bit more involved than adjusting the balance on your car stereo. Making a great personal mix is about ensuring you can hear everything you need to perform your best. This is one of those places that the old “less is more” adage is true.

Over the next few posts, we will explore some tips for making a great personal mix. We won’t go into the mixing deep end. These principles will help you make a good mix quickly. For the experts out there, these are great principles to teach your volunteers. They will improve your practices, performances, and reduce volunteer frustration.

The first thing to know about getting a good personal mix is that you don’t need to hear everything. Now that we have 16-24 channels that we can adjust ourselves, we feel like we need to use all of them. We don’t. When it comes down to it, there are really only two things that you need to hear.

The foundations of a great personal mix start with a pitch reference and a timing reference.

Pitch reference is what you need to make sure you are singing or playing in tune with the song. The tracks that make up your personal pitch reference will vary. It could be the lead vocalist, the piano, acoustic guitar, etc.

For illustration purposes, let’s say you are a lead guitar player. The rest of the band is made up of a worship leader who is playing acoustic, a keyboard player, a synth/pad player, a drummer, a bass player, and three background vocalists. As a lead guitarist, you need to hear the chords being played, the pitch reference, so you know when you are on, and when you are off. You don’t necessarily need to hear the background vocalists, or even the pads.

Find out which tracks are the key pitch reference tracks for the song or set, and give those prominence in your mix.

Just like the pitch reference will keep you honest where the harmony and melody is concerned, the timing reference will do the same for tempo and feel. If you can’t hear the beat, you can’t sing on it.

The timing reference is usually the drums. But you don’t need ALL the drums (if you have the option). Get that kick and snare going, with some high-hats and that’s it. Throw the toms and cymbals back in the mix. You might get some timing or syncopation from the bass player, if so, bring that track up.

Your timing reference will not always be the drums. It may be the acoustic guitar strum, the rhythm electric, a metronome or even  backing tracks. And it may vary by song. Be aware of changes to the timing reference tracks over the course of your playlist.

Mixing this way is harder to do in practice than in theory. It’s an exercise in restraint to limit what goes into the pitch reference and timing reference categories. Work at identifying the key pitch and rhythm reference channels and start your mix there. Practice turning down the tracks that you don’t absolutely need to nail your performance.  

Remember, this is about getting the mix you need to play your best. We’re not mixing to win a Grammy here. The better you get at reducing mix clutter, the better your mix will sound, and the better you will perform because of it.

 

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