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Stage Monitoring 101: The Essentials

The many factors to account for in getting it right on stage, and with consistency...

By Craig Leerman April 7, 2015

It can be tough performing live on a stage – all the noise, Noise, NOISE. This is the first thing in my mind when doing stage monitoring because too much noise can compromise performances and presentations.

It’s hard to be at your best when you can’t hear, let alone think, due to a sonic assault, and no amount of magic monitor mixing or technique is going to fix it.

The noise comes from everywhere. The backside of the house mains. The subwoofers. Various (and numerous) delayed signal reflecting back from the house. Stage sources. The audience. There’s only so much we can do, but minimizing stray energy on stage is a top priority, and then comes the work of devising a monitoring approach that’s best for the performers and production.

When setting up the house system, placement and people are the keys. Placement is where the main loudspeakers are stacked or flown, and people refers to the performers and the audience – we need to serve both.

If possible, the loudspeakers shouldn’t be too close to the stage, helping keep their excess energy off the stage while still insuring they fully cover the audience. Flying/stacking them even a few feet forward can make a significant difference. (Also try to keep their output off of reflective surfaces in the room.)

Loudspeakers on delay further out in the house, as well as front fills, are a good way to get even coverage throughout the listening area without having to crank up the mains too high. Digitally steerable arrays, which my company deploys regularly for both music performances and corporate events, provide an extra degree of welcome control. Cardioid and end fire configurations for the subs can help direct their energy outward rather than backward.

A very clean deployment of monitors and fills.

Various Approaches
Now it’s time to turn our attention to the stage monitoring needs of the performers. Wedges, in-ear monitors, stage fills, or a combination?

It’s a direction determined by the specific gig, performer preferences, and what we (and perhaps the venue) have available in terms of gear. Everything but in-ear monitoring increases the noise quotient, but that’s usually (and simply) the reality; plus, some artists like amped-up monitoring.

Over the past several years, a wide range of active 2-way boxes have hit the market with cabinets offering a monitoring angle. They’re quite useful in being able to perform wedge, stage fill and small system main duties. Onboard DSP means they can be optimized for the specific application.

We’re also seeing more active options with traditional wedges. Active does require both a signal and power cable, but there are now options offering both within the same jacket, which can help reduce clutter.

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About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Las Vegas and Reno.


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