Live PA and Monitor Systems

Hi Everyone,

I posted about this a few years ago but things have changed a lot in this area and I expanded the topic to include all elements of the band, not just keyboard vsti sounds. Vocals, instruments, the lot are what I am talking about. Since my methods now include being part of the stage monitor system it differs from when I started out having just a Keyboard monitor and the PA monitor separate. Many of us play live music so I wanted to open a discussion of solo, duet and whole band stage monitor mixing issues and methods people use to get the job done. This is a wide topic because there are many musical combo configurations, music types and levels of onstage energy and loudness differences that have been pointed out in other posts. This subject for me is also heavily influenced by the use of digital mixers that can be controlled via MIDI and are now being used as Audio engines via Cantabile Live Host. So I wanted to start it all off with this post. I am excited to have all types of contributions so if your world is different that’s great and I look forward to the inside tricks you might share on how you get it done, from the small clubs to the big stages and festival settings, from the in-ear to the old wedge systems let it rip!

Thanks for any contributions, :slight_smile:


Hi All,

It appears I will be the first contributor with a look at how I have been doing it lately. I use my controller, laptop and RME interface for the Cantabile system I have configured. When I am playing at small venues where we bring the gear I use a Behringer X18 which is hard networked to a hub and either networked to my C3 Laptop and/or a second laptop which has the USB Audio drivers for the X18 and an installation of Studio One which I have made recording templates for. It gives me 16 track and a stereo main bus recording while playing our shows. I have used it when mixing for larger festival events in my rural area the same way. The stage monitoring is done with the keyboards, bass (I play the MODO bass with left hand on many songs), acoustic/electric guitar, percussion battery and the lead and backing vocals all from the same monitors. This was, when we first started trying to do it, a bear because of many things mostly I think having to do with how we each perceived the mix of our sound should be. I came from an era of loud powerful systems that we turned up even in small smoke filled clubs so that was it’s own challenge and it always centered around being loud without squeals or muddiness and BASS, lots of BASS. The Keyboardist always had his own dragon slayer Monitor system to keep pace with the guitar amps and drums with the vocals being the only thing thrown back in the front wedges. It was what is was and it is what is because I still see mixing like that to this day here where I live with Rock and C&W bands. I am older now and the songlist is different and as a result we started mixing the way we do because

  • we use StagePas 10" speakers set up as wedges with the vocalist/front peoples on the ground and the keyboard station elevated about 12 to 16 " and pointed right at my head so I have no doubt what I am hearing
  • Less sound hangover from practices and gigs
  • It forces all of us to hear our place in the mix because the monitor = the mains
  • It allowed all the members to critique the mix we presented to the audience thereby increasing our band’s confidence in our output
  • From one venue to the next we sound very consistent with little room adjustment the only hurdle
  • I get the love from the band because I’m the dreaded mixer guy (this is not always the case in my experience :wink:)

A dominant take away from this is that the vocals are what sell our act and they work best when they are about -12db to -6db above the instruments and when the leads come up match them to the lead vocal levels the people have been hearing with a little extra sauce. Club owners tell me these days that the music levels must allow for conversation at the tables of the club or restaurant while still allowing for lively musical presentations. The smallest rooms require no Mains at all and if in larger rooms we have more elements we just add on and direct to the larger room or hand a feed to the FOH people if that is the way of it. Anyway that’s the way my main band is doing right now and it works, but took me a year of practicing with and getting used to :grin:.


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Hey Dave

As you know. I’ve discussed this topic a few times here, and on other sites. I also PM’d a few resident members about their way of dealing with the subject.
I got into being the “PA” band member in 1967(not by choice), and have been doing it thru the years as systems change. It is a challenge in today’s world as venues shrink in size, and patrons rarely go to a pub to hear a band…just the way things have digressed. Club owners have changed as well. FOH is disappearing very quickly. This is why 4yrs ago I went to in-ear monitors and small, but powerful mains. Even tho I still perform with fully amped bands, the demand for them is also shrinking. The trend is having a “background” band…not in your face and kick-ass performances. Duets are still in demand, but only for background music.
My intention to run everything thru PA, no amps has made a difference, in the fact that we can play at a low level in the mains without lessening our sound. Amp sims really made a difference in playing a guitar at a low output level without destroying tone.
I’ve been in lively performance bands all my life, but with demand changes, I had to also change the way I produced sound. Most musicians I know resist change, and will not concede to the fact that the 70’s are over. I still want to be viable at my age, so I embrace change, but do it MY WAY. :sunglasses:


Hi there - good idea to share stage setups; always something to learn there!

After years of shlepping monsterous P.A. speakers and screaming my head off against roaring guitar amps, I have now gone mostly virtual and In-Ear in my main band:

  • Virtual drums, virtual guitar amp, bass only via preamp to the desk - low fundamental volume level.
  • Monitoring: a mix of In-Ear for myself (lead/backing vox, keys) and my wife (lead / backing vox, acoustic) and various active wedges for drums, bass, guitar - no instrument amps; the wedges act both as monitors and instrument amp substitute
  • Mixing: Mackie DL32R - great useability, no snake to pull through the venue (and clean afterwards), no mixing area needed in the audience - your techs sit at the bar with an iPad and mix…
  • P.A.: HK Audio Elements. Doesn’t look very Rock’nRoll with its slender columns, but with 4 Subs on each side, it cranks out massive levels for 300-400 pax and is easy to transport, since none of the components weighs more than 20 kg and there are no big bulky monsters that wouldn’t fit in a car.

I have a scaled-down setup of our Elements P.A. in our rehearsal room, and I record our rehearsals (multi-track) to Reaper directly from the Mackie mixer. This allows me to fine-tune the mix through the mixer alone in the rehearsal room before heading out for a gig - and since no amps or acoustic drums are involved, the mix based on the recording is pretty close to the real thing. Also, having a multi-track recording of rehearsals helps balancing my Cantabile patch levels against the rest of the band - how much solo-boost is too much?

I used to mix from my “driver’s seat” behind the keyboards, but some time ago, I pulled the plug on that - it was just too much to deal with at the same time, and my performance suffered. So these days, I do the sound check (even with a pre-configured mix from the rehearsal room, every venue requires a bit of tweaking) and then hand over the mixing iPad to my daughters - they are now pretty adept at managing the mix throughout the performance. It’s mostly levels from that point on, ensuring the mix between lead and backing vox (we alternate lead duties) and riding soloist levels.

With this setup, we can manage pretty low volume levels for smaller venues up to large open-air locations without changing a lot in our configuration - essentially we just pile on a couple of subs and maybe one pair of hi-mids to grow the sound with the location.




I’ve bent @Torsten’s ear (and others) many times on this subject. He is definitely right…mixing from stage absolutely ruins my performance and triggers anxiety flair-ups. If I can get into a venue early enough to set the PA, it is usually good for most of the night. Hopefully, someone will be there to give a little judgement.
Tonight, I am playing a restaurant/bar. Even tho I am not the PA guy tonight, I am already getting shaky and grumpy, knowing I may only have 30 minutes to setup. If I had the PA to deal with, I would probably lose it. :crazy_face: This is also becoming a trend…an hour or less to setup. Xanax may be my best friend tonight, but a cold beer will probably be the answer…in fact, several.

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Thanks for this post (and everyones responses)! This validates what I am trying to do. I’m in a 5-piece part-time cover band that plays mostly in small venues. We have been fortunate enough to have a dedicated sound engineer who makes us sound good out front, but that is likely to change.

I have recently bought the XR18 and for the next couple shows, I will just be using it as my keyboard mixer (only VSTi’s from my C3 laptop using a Focusrite 2i2 as my audio interface), but will soon start using it as the band’s Monitors and Mains mixer. I’m stressing a little over trying to manage the mixing from stage while playing, but the option of someone out front controlling the XR18 from a networked laptop or iPad is very exciting.

Being able to do everything the XR18 can do (and I’m very happy with it’s sound and features) at a 500 US$ price point is (in my opinion) the best value on the market for a small part-time musician who wants a professional sounding production on a shoestring budget.

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It’s one area in Welsh Floyd where we still hire in the PA. It costs, but it comes with a pro sound man who has mixed live sound for some big names, and still does. He lives in the South Wales valleys area and still likes to support local bands as well. He is a rep for MIDAS consoles in the UK, and, at our level (very serious semi-pro, but not the day job)) I have never heard a sound so good as what he gets for us. I can’t remember the exact model as it is a few years since I gigged with the band, although we are getting ready to gig again in the autumn.

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Hi Roland
You absolutely will stress. I use a QSC digital mixer which controls everything, and can be wirelessly used on a pad or phone. Getting a good sound check is a must. It will reduce your “stage-mixing” duties tremendously, and give you room for performance. Also someone you absolutely trust to take the controls, and knows how to use them is critical. There are very few people I trust well enough to give them the controls. A few volume adjustments could ruin your total mix.

I am able to switch my in-ears to receive main mix. Although it will not accurately reveal true FOH sound, due to differences in frequencies of mains and in-ears, it will give a good reference of levels. I also have used a live mic out front, mic facing mains, and can switch to monitor the mic. If there is room, I place an extra main facing band to give some stage sound and air movement. Since we are all virtual, only vocal mics, it doesn’t feedback and I can pull one in-ear out for a few to monitor the mains.

With fully amped bands, you can also configure your system to switch your monitor wedge to mains signal, but be careful in doing it …feedback will be a certainty.

I was in a band once ages ago that mixed from the stage- like, '88 to '92. We had e-drums, unusual at the time, and we didn’t run a separate monitor mix- our wedges were paralleled right off the mains, everyone in the band heard the same mix- even the drummer- and we knew that’s what they were getting out front too. We had a pretty quiet stage volume as well. We made it work but it’s not something I’d ever want to try and do again. Good FOH mixers are worth their weight in gold. Sadly, we lost ours last year to cancer.

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In general I do two kind of gigs:
1.) High-professional gigs, where we play venues with 5000< pax. Here we have a monitor-guy and I don’t have to bother about the monitor sound. It’s always (or most of the time) great…
2.) Semi-professional gigs. We don’t have a PA and we don’t have a fixed FOH-guy or a monitor-guy. So in general the local FOH does also monitor-sound. Since I play with in-ears I do not trust them anymore. In very rare cases the FOH-guys have a feeling for loudness when it comes to in-ear-monitoring. Sometimes a think their mixing console doesn’t have faders but only rocker switches… if I say “I need more guitar on my monitor” the FOH gives me +30db… and if I want less, it’s almost gone. WTF?
So, even though it needs more setup-time, I decided to go another way. Since my keyboard-setup is ready to go in about 5min, this is generally no problem.
At the moment I use a Zoom L12. Great little device. Of course my keyboard goes directly into that. The main-outs of the Zoom go to the FOH. Then I have a bunch of XLR-splits and I split / take the signals I want to have control over myself. In general it’s bassdrum, snare, Guitar and Bass. Those go into the Zoom as well. On Channel 1 of the Zoom I have the monitor-line from the FOH connected.
This setup allows me to adjust the main-signals which are important to me by myself. Also I made the experience that signals that are EQt for the FOH are not suitable for monitor. So this is an advantage too. I can EQ the bassdrum to my needs…
And I can easily make a multi-ch. recording :slight_smile:


I like the fact that when we gigged in Welsh Floyd, and hopefully again when w gig later this year, that the MIDAS console our sound man was using was also a WIFI hotspot, and with an app on your phone you could control your own monitor mix. I really loved that feature. No more trying to signal the sound man and him getting it wrong!

We do that with our QSC. Either phones or pads, we control our own monitor mix. Don’t have to deal with “more of me” every few minutes. I never rely on a sound person to do monitor mix anymore. They rarely get it right, and get pissed off too easily. Many of them never understand that WE are the show, and WE need certain things to perform properly. Larger shows are much different and usually have “PROFESSIONAL” sound people, not the resident drunk that offered to do sound for drinks. :grin:


Talking about your support getting pissed, we used to have a one way roadie in a former band. He’d drive down in his van, get absolutely hammered, and I’d usually be the one driving it back! Ah, the joys of gigging…


I’ve got a couple of variations for gigging, but of late I only use Cantabile with my “jazz” group.

Alienware PC (small form factor), into a MOTU Audio Express (I have a MIDI express in the rack too - ).
Analog outs of the MOTU into a Behringer XR18, which then feeds monitors, mains, and various in-ears that can be managed through iPad or the XControl fader control surface. We seem to have standardized on QSC K series powered speakers (k10, k8, k10.2 and k8.2), and also have a Behringer subwoofer for main when we play in bigger places.

Most of the time I use in-ears so I don’t have to carry much, but occasionally I do set the K10.2’s up as wedges on either side of me, and mix both the keyboards and other instruments together through the XR18.


our band has 2 configurations. One is wth a full band and PA and IEMs. The other is (California Creedence lite) with IEMs as well. We use a SoundCraft UI24r which is an html based lan/hotspot digital mixer. Ever since seeing this thread I was thinking of finding a way for each band member to A/B their personal monitor mix and FOH in their IEM.

We have a larger more powerful setup for California Creedence with 2 subs and 2 JBL SRX 725s using about 5000 watts. For Classics III we use 2 Yamaha’s 15" and horn" with one sub using a total of 1500w power. Our Bass player is a retired electrical engineer. He does with 5000 watts what I was doing with 11,000. He is amazing.

As the keyboardist/sound man, I thought of a great response to wireless guitarists/singers who walk out front during sound check and say, “You need to turn me up!” I ask them first, “How does the rest of the band sound?..(no response)…I’m mixing the whole band, not just you. Get back to your spot!”

Monitor wedges are very very tricky. They can disrupt FOH if not done well. Musicians seem to want a hot wedge mix (the complaints about hearing loss is an old bromide that I don’t buy). I mute the wedges during sound check to A/B FOH to see how badly it is compromised, if at all.

Nowdays, i don’t see the need for stage amps and wedges IMHO.

Which is the battle I’ve lost on many occasions with many of my “old school” bandmates. My tinnitus gets worse with every gawd-awful loud band I play with. You can’t inspire stubborn. It lives in a shell and never comes out to see the Sun.
Thank goodness I have two bands willing to make it work. Funny thing, those two bands have younger members than the others. Hmmmm. Curmudgeon must live with stubborn. :thinking:

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It’s strange that our most tech savvy band mates are the guitarist and bass player. The guitarist is 72 and bass player is 64. The 72 year old does all of our backing stems in his studio, and I load them into Ableton. But I agree, younger folks get it. Our guitarist has some hearing loss, but he was a Viet Nam Combat vet US Marine. I told him that he doesn’t look like a killer but he said that the battlefield makes people do things you would never expect.

Thank God all my old band mates are on board with IEMs.

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That is strange. I can’t get most of the older farts to get over the 60’s Garage Band feel, and the 70’s elongated improv. Since I am usually the oldest, I look at these guys like…“have you transgressed the 80’s by chance? Or does Stone Temple Pilots, or Periphery ring a bell?” It’s like they went into a coma in 1975, and never came back. They still want to use their museum piece, gigantic speakers, and 90 lb power amps…and it all reeks of stale cigarette smoke and beer. But, the hair dye does add a certain freshness to the air. :nauseated_face: