Mixing Loops for the Stage. IEM’s and Wedges!
In the past, we have discussed the technical aspects of mixing loops for the general congregation (Front-of-House), as well as running loops from the stage for the worship leader. To complete the idea, in this post, we’re going to take a look at mixing loops for the monitor engineer.
It doesn’t matter if you church has a dedicated audio console for monitors or if you run the wedges and in-ear mixes from the primary mixer, this is for you! Mixing monitors for an experienced worship band can be a very demanding task. Each player may have very specific desires concerning what they want to hear. In addition, they may not be very good at articulating what they would like to hear. Having an Aviom system (or something similar) greatly eases this burden, but many churches still run wedges, or a combination of Avioms with in-ears and wedges. To develop the best mix for your musicians, you have to take a look at the elements of each loop and consider their value to the musician.
Most loop tracks consist of two primary elements: a click / vocal cue track and a ‘loop track’. The loop track is what contains the actual sonic elements that add to your band; while the click/cues track is what helps your band stay in time with the track. These two elements must be treated differently since they serve two totally different purposes.
The Click Track
The click is essentially a metronome for the band to follow. This ensures that the percussive elements of the track are in sync with what the band is doing. With any luck, you’re already running a click track for your non-loop songs and there should be no learning curve for your band with this. Often the drummer will be responsible for running the click throughout a service. If you already have a click, you should send the click channel from the loops to the same people. The drummer, without exception, needs to hear the click from the loop. Other players may vary by the track and the vocal cues. Some tracks only have a click, and therefore some players may not want to hear it, they’d rather follow the drummer. However, some tracks also have vocal cues that signal the start of each verse, chorus, bridge, and tags. These elements help your band be ahead of the next transition rather than behind it.
In general, the only people who may not want the click is the vocalists. They may follow the band well enough that it is only distracting. There are of course, exceptions to this. Many slow songs have sparse instrumentation, especially on introductions and bridges and vocalists will rely on that click to keep in time so thing don’t go awry during those sections.
The Loop Track
The loop itself is an entirely different animal than the click. Depending on the musical content of the loop, this may change week to week or even song to song. For the loop, you’ll need to work out with each band member if they’d like to hear the loop in their ears/wedge. Almost certainly, the team member running the loops will want to hear them, as will the drummer. Guitarists and vocalists will come down to personal preference.
Since most loops are electronic sounds and rarely contain actual recordings, they have the potential to be painfully bright or overpowering in a monitor mix. As the monitor engineer, you’ll want to be sure to tame portions of the loop that may compete with other critical elements in your mix. For example, if a loop has a large string part, but it’s covering up the piano in the vocalist wedge, you may need to pull some of the low end out of the strings so the vocalists can still hear the piano for their notes. On the other hand, a loop may have a big kick drum beat that the drummer needs to help stay on time. Boosting the low end in the drummer mix is fine as long as you have individual control over their mix – you wouldn’t want to boost the low end of the loop in all monitors. If you’re using an analog console and have 1 EQ to share, consider hooking a 31-band EQ to the outputs for each wedge. This will allow you to adjust mix-level things like overall low-end for the drummer/bass player or mid-range presence for vocalists.
The important thing to remember is that most of the time, the loop is there to add to the band, not replace it. Make sure it doesn’t replace anything in the monitor mixes either!
Matt Brock · August 24, 2011 at 9:25 am
Good post. Thanks for your insight!
Alberto Rosales · September 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm
Hey LC i know this has nothing to do with this post but i just recently got introduced to loops and got Ableton Live and everything but how can i hook up my Macbook to a mixer or do I hook it up to a direct box coz i have no clue and also I would like to to get the best sound possible it would be cool if you did a post on this or a tutorial…thanks in advance, god bless and keep looping on!!
Mike · September 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm
Hey Alberto! We’ve got a more detailed post on that in the queue! To answer your question though, you got two choices:
1) Using the on-board audio of your Macbook. Get a stereo 1/8th to dual mono 1/4 cable. Hard pan the loop and click in Ableton and use a pair of direct boxes to take it to mic-level signal. That can go into your mixer and be routed to your monitors/in-ears and the house as 2 separate sources.
2) Use an audio interface like the MBOX 3 mini we just gave away. Hooked up via USB to your mac, this bypasses the onboard audio of your mac and will sound a LOT better. Outputs of the interface go into a direct box and then to your mixer.
Hope that helps. If you need more details or have more specific questions – post in our forum and we’ll explain every detail you need!
Alberto Rosales · September 3, 2011 at 2:23 am
Samsound · September 14, 2011 at 1:24 am
Also, if you use an audio interface with balanced outputs, you can skip the DI box. Buy or build a TRS to XLR cable, and you can plug directly into an available mic channel. You’ll just have to adjust the gain staging between your interface and the trim on the mixing board.
Mike · September 14, 2011 at 7:03 am
While it’s technically possible to cable up a setup without a DI, it’s still required for a number of reasons.
Firstly, 1/4 line level outputs from your interface are at a different impedance than the XLR lines that run into your mixer. Over long cable runs (through your snake, etc.) you will lose sonic content in the high frequency ranges. The use of a DI will convert the impedance to match that of your mixing console and eliminate this problem.
Secondly, the 1/4 lines coming out of your interface are (usually) unbalanced. This may not present a problem if the interface is right next to your mixing console, but over any kind of distance, unbalanced lines are very susceptible to noise, hum, and interference from other sources. Using a DI to convert to a true balanced connection will result in most of this noise being rejected and the original signal passing through without a problem.
Thirdly, the DI can isolate the connection (through the use of a transformer) from the mixing desk through the use of the ground/lift switch. This is particularly important when the laptop is plugged into a different power source from the mixing desk. Without a DI, you are very likely to encounter 60 cycle hums on those lines. A DI prevents this since the two devices are never physically connected.
Hope that helps!