Have you ever tried to carry a tune in a crowded, noisy room, unable to hear yourself? It isn’t easy. Musicians rely on stage monitors (speakers) and in-ear monitors to hear a specifically crafted mix of the vocals and instruments on stage; this keeps them on beat and singers on key. The best seat in the house goes to the monitor engineer, the technician tasked with crafting the artist’s monitor mix.
The monitor engineer is responsible to the front of house (FOH) engineer and band for the operation of the monitor mixing console, maintenance and repair of the band’s in-ears, onstage, and backline gear. He or she maintains and repairs microphones, wedges, XLR cable, and any other audio gear. At load-in, he or she supervises the installation of the monitor system, the mixing desk, and the signal inputs. During sound check, the engineer works closely with the band to adjust levels to individual monitors; he or she will isolate each signal to give band members just the right amount of snare, kick drum, lead vocals, or rhythm guitar. There is no magic formula for mixing monitors: Every musician has his or her own preferences—some like more high end out of their own instrument, while others like a lot of low end from the kit.
During the performance, the monitor engineer is stationed on the side of the stage, in the wings. He or she is must pay attention to the movements of the musicians to prevent feedback through the monitors, and make adjustments to levels based on the noise in the venue from the audience and bounce-back from the stage arrays. The engineer must maintain good communication with the band (often using hand signals and gestures) to ensure that the musicians are getting the proper sound. If you’ve ever seen artists rip out their in-ears during a performance, you can bet there was a breakdown between them and the monitor engineer.
Skills & Education
Audio engineering is as much an art as it is a science. You must have a good ear for music and a firm grasp of the technology used to control and manipulate sound. To train your ear, study music history, theory, and appreciation. A formal degree is not a requirement to pursue this career path, but a hands-on education in the use and maintenance of analog and digital consoles, speakers, amplifiers, effects hardware and software, microphones, and audio measurement systems is imperative. A familiarity with musical instruments is helpful. Training as an assistant under an engineer is a great way to understand the basics and start developing your skills. Education in the principles of electricity, the physics of sound, and mathematics are also beneficial to a career as a monitor engineer.
What to Expect
Good communication, tireless work ethic and the initiative to stay on top of innovations in sound technology will serve you well in this position. The monitor engineer is first responsible to the band. You will work closely with the artist to nail down exactly the mix they need from their monitors or in-ears. A good monitor engineer is distinguished by how well he or she can listen and anticipate the needs of the performer. If you can develop a close working relationship with a band, you will have a very long career. The best monitor engineers are highly sought-after, and requested by name.
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