"Can You Hear Me Now?": Making Your Monitors Work for You

“Can I Get More of Myself in the Monitors, Please?”

If your worship team consists of more than a vocalist and a guitar, odds are that you’ve heard this a hundred times. That’s because when you gather musicians and vocalists together, it gets loud very quickly. The goal of monitor speakers is to help worship team members hear each other and work together better. Yet often monitors have the opposite effect, creating isolation and disjointedness among musicians and unnecessary noise in the sanctuary—and thus inhibiting rather than encouraging worship. Choosing the right monitors, placing them in the right places, and mixing them correctly can greatly reduce these problems and help the worship team and the sound system work together to lead the congregation’s song.

Which Monitor Do I Choose?

The first step in choosing monitors for your church is looking at the architecture of your sanctuary. Many new church buildings were built with contemporary instruments in mind, but most older buildings were built more for pipe organ and choir than drum set, guitar, and amplified vocalists. These spaces tend to be echo-y and “muddy” acoustically. The main concern with monitors in these spaces is to give the musicians the ability to hear themselves without overpowering the main house speakers. One of the worst things you can do in such spaces is to use either large powerful floor monitors or “flown” monitors that are located in the air far above the worship platform. These monitors create too much volume and muddy the sound for both the musicians and the congregation. Purchasing smaller monitors and placing them strategically on stage can increase clarity for both.

Monitors come in many different shapes, types, and sizes. Choosing the right ones to buy will depend on the equipment you already have and the size of your team. If you are in a highly reverberant room, ten- to twelve-inch monitor floor wedges (ten inches refers to the “woofer” or the main speaker) work well. These speakers range from $50-$400 and are good for vocalists and most instrumentalists. Smaller stand-mounted speakers are great for keyboardists and pianists because they can be mounted on a keyboard or placed at the musician’s ear level. Most of the speakers described are passive (they need an amp to power them). If you don’t have a powered sound system, you might want to consider buying active speakers that have their own power source. The more economical choice is to buy a main amp, a monitor amp, and then less expensive passive speakers. In-ear monitors are a newer option that is rapidly becoming affordable for larger worship teams.

Placement and Mixing Are Everything

When musicians complain about not being able to hear themselves in the monitors, the problem may be more one of location than volume. Check to see where the monitor is aimed and whether anything is impeding the monitor’s target. Sound waves are a lot like pool balls: they’ll go in the direction they are aimed until they bounce off of something else. Music stands, walls, and other large objects can deflect waves back toward the congregation, so make sure the path of the sound waves is unobstructed. Also make sure to place floor wedge monitors three to four feet away from the musician so that the sound waves can expand to hit ears, not ankles. To decrease feedback, always place monitors so that they don’t face any mikes or amps.

Limiting the instruments in each monitor’s mix can also decrease the overall volume while still giving worship team members what they need to play and sing well. Ask who does not need a monitor and what each person needs to hear in order to play well with the others. For instance, the bass player standing right next to the drummer does not need to hear the kick drum in her monitor, and every vocalist does not need his own monitor. Remember that your goal is not a good overall mix but rather to give the musicians what they need to play well. Vocalists need to hear each other and everyone needs to hear the main rhythm instruments. Any instruments that are not the main instruments can be decreased in the other monitors, as well as secondary vocals in instrumentalists’ monitors, and so on.

Our primary focus and our task is to lead the congregation’s singing. Choosing the right monitors, placing them, and mixing them well can help your team play together better and increase clarity in your worship space, enabling the congregation’s ability to worship God in song.



What’s a Monitor?

Monitors are speakers that help musicians hear each other while playing live. They are identical to main speakers except that they are often smaller and used at lower volumes. Monitors could be used as main speakers, but their primary function is to help musicians hear themselves and blend with other musicians while playing together. The function of the main speakers is to provide sound reinforcement for the congregation.

Chris Koch (chrisk828@hotmail.com) is a professional sound technician and music director at Village Presbyterian Church in Ladera Ranch, California.

Reformed Worship 79 © March 2006, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.