What Is a Monitor Engineer?
A monitor engineer, also called a sound technician or front-of-house person, is the person on tour who handles all audio for an artist’s in-ear monitors or wedges. When on stage, the artist can’t hear anything because the PA faces the audience. The monitor engineer’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the audio an artist needs to hear is mixed, is at the appropriate volume levels, and has the necessary instruments for that performer to do their job.
Skills Required to be a Monitor Engineer
Being a sound person is one of the more difficult professions on the road. A lot of this profession has to do with natural talent and an understanding of acoustics, and you can’t teach someone how to have a good ear for sound. At the most basic level, the knowledge of sound and how it works is a massive part of this job. Still, as technology progresses, there is an ever-growing need to understand the telecommunications angle. With more and more equipment going wireless, and less of the RF spectrum being available for use, it’s the monitor engineer’s job to ensure all of that gear is working correctly.
The other half of the job is understanding the physical equipment, and you won’t be able to do the job without it. The anatomy of a mixing board, how all the audio hardware works and dealing with different setups in every venue you’re in are some significant hurdles a monitor engineer will need to address.
The Differences Between FOH and Monitor Engineer
Overall, the point of any sound tech on tour is to make sure the artist and the audience can hear everything during a show. The number of techs brought out to do the job is dependent on the level of touring an artist has reached; IE the more prominent the artist, the more techs they need, but the job breakdown always stays the same.
The monitor technician is responsible for everything the artist needs to hear on stage. They mix from the side of the stage, so they’re capable of making any adjustments on the fly for the band. The front-of-house person is mixing the live sound for the audience. They’re at the booth placed basically in the center of the venue to hear acoustically the same thing the audience is listening to and make the changes necessary to put on a great show. One person can do both of these jobs, or some bands will let the local crew handle the FOH mix while they use their own monitor engineer.
Daily Tasks of a Monitor Engineer
The majority of what a monitor engineer deals with daily is problem-solving. In a perfect world, they would get to a venue with all the equipment they need, they could hook up all the mics to each instrument with no issues, and all of their RFs would work just fine.
On an average day, the monitor engineer waits for the gear to be loaded in and sets up their console, and mics all the artist’s gear as it gets unloaded from the truck. Depending on the tour, they could be using their own equipment, or they could be using the venue’s equipment. If they’re using their own setup, it’s just a process of setting everything up and testing everything. If they’re using the venue’s gear, a few more variables play into it. The monitor engineer has to ensure that the venue has everything the artist needs to play the show.
They go through and line check the instruments and wireless packs one at a time. After everything is verified to be working, they spend the rest of their time implementing various redundancy levels to ensure a problem-free show. They clean the packs for the artists, hand over all the equipment, and get ready for showtime.
Depending on the artist, the monitor engineer might have other jobs during the show besides making sure the artist can hear through their in-ears. If there are playback tracks that the artist uses for their performance, the monitor engineer has to coordinate them with the show, so the artist is in sync with everything going on on stage.
Monitor Engineer Tips
- You need to be able to take criticism because there’s a lot of passion behind the artists you’ll be working with. They’re not yelling to be mean, but your job is critical to their success.
- You never really know how time-involved your day will be, so you have to try and plan ahead.
- Don’t underestimate the power of small talk. You can change an entire day around just by taking a few minutes to be nice to the local crew and talk to them.
- If you’re interested in learning something, there’s always an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask people questions or shadow someone to learn something new; just make sure it’s the right time and place.
- Take advantage of the places in your life that could have opportunities for you to learn new skills. Regardless of your religion, churches can be a great place to start, especially in more rural areas where you might not have access to a local venue.
- Know your audio frequencies! Audio Frequency Trainer
- Buy a good pair of headphones or in-ears and spend time listening to music and analyzing the sonic quality of what you’re listening to.