This is another term that is often misunderstood and the results can be unpleasant for the audience and performers as well.  This does not prevent the error from happening over and over.  It doesn’t have to happen to you.  At first glance the term is quite simple.  In its simplest form it probably means “turn things louder”.  And that may be the most widely used interpretation.  But the phrase is not, ‘Sound Forcement‘…… it is reinforcement.  If something is loud enough on stage, ……… wait for it ………. It DOES NOT need sound reinforcement.  In a small room, the trumpet probably doesn’t need much – if any – volume reinforcement.  (certainly not in the stage monitors and little if any in the house mix)  The guitar player with 10 Marshall stacks in a thirty seat room probably does not need sound reinforcement.   Well then, what does?

Simply enough, anything that is not run directly through an instrument amplifier on stage.  This could be the sounds from the keyboards or tone devices, vocalists, special effects FX (usually effects are used in the house mix but can also be sent to the monitor sends) and back ground or other media tracks including the ‘tape’ input for your stereo music player used in our earlier post. 

We will do better if we use this definition for both sound systems we have pulled together for this event.  On stage, do not add anything to the monitor mix that is already loud on stage.  Again there are exceptions and many performers will argue this point, but I try to keep the monitor sends clear of anything I do not need to reinforce.  If it is a big stage and members are far apart – absolutely add a little of an instrument to the other monitor mix.  Everyone needs to hear the other performers.  Just do not add to all monitor mixes if you use multi-monitor sends.  Smaller stages there is little advantage in sending amplified instruments or drum set channels to the monitor mix.

Now, look at the balance from the house point of view. Can you hear the reverb on the snare drum and mounted toms clearly?  Is one vocalist drowning out the others?  Is that trumpet (or cymbal crash or tambourine or Kick drum) not in the mix during the solo?  Can the keyboard player hear the monitors or instrument amp really good but no one in the audience can hear them?  Can solo performances be heard clearly above the mix?

Set and forget.  There are a number of input sources you will be able to set once and leave alone.  The drums should be set up properly during sound check and should not need fader, pan, EQ or volume adjustments during the typical event performance.  So the easy ones are drum and percussion kits along with some keyboards and other tone generators.  Brass, string or choir sections can also be set.  Most of these groups can be balanced during sound check and you will never have to mess with them for the rest of the performance.  That allows you to focus on the variations of vocal performers, solo instruments and ‘guest’ players.  Make sure if you turn the instrument louder during a solo or energy section that you turn it back down when the section is over. Otherwise it is a race to the top and others will need to turn up to hear themselves comfortably.  Then the rest of the group has to do the same to keep up with the neighbors on stage.  It can get ugly at the top.

In small clubs or rooms, there is very little need for large PA systems and huge speakers.  In many situations you will do fine to let the stage volume fill most of the room.  Sometimes all I have to add is the keyboards and vocals, with the effects thrown in on top.  I might bring up a guitar or other solo instrument in the mix, when the rest of the time that instrument fader is off completely in the house and monitor mix.  It simply does not need sound reinforcement there.

In some gigs, a player can be loud enough on stage that you cannot increase over-all volume using the house system.  They are so loud that the PA for a small club will have little effect.  I have been known to take players completely out of the house mix.

I use simple guidelines and want to ensure that any and all performers will be heard in the house.  This includes each percussion instrument to various keyboard textures and sounds.  I keep all levels in balance so one instrument or group of instruments does not dominate the performance or mix.  I make sure band members know they do not have to play loud on stage.  All they have to do is play good and I will make it sound great in the house. You play; let me crank it up!

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