Monitoring for the stage: What musicians should know

We asked an FOH pro what musicians should know about monitoring on stage – and how to work better together as equals

Monitoring is the only way musicians can reasonably hear themselves and their band members playing. On small stages, the drums are almost always dominant, while the sound of other instruments comes exclusively from the PA System. That's why every musician should at least have a basic understanding of how monitoring works. For some musicians it is enough to have the click in their ear – but that is the absolute exception. That's why DJ and sound engineer Janosch Held shares his thoughts on stage monitoring – as an ambassador between stage artist and mixing hero.

It is important for musicians to understand the basic problem of monitoring on stage

When it comes to monitoring on stage, it's always about balance. Namely the balance between what comes from the monitors and what comes from the back line. Always think of sound sources such as guitar speakers and bass speakers as part of the "overall mix" on stage. This awareness should be at the beginning of all monitoring considerations. Where something should be louder or quieter often depends on where the musician is standing that the sound should reach.

Before setting up the stage, you usually know how many monitor wedges you have available. So build up the backline in such a way that it complements the monitor speakers rather than working against them.

Your common goal as musicians and mixers is a stage that is as quiet as possible

Does every musician need their own monitor? In the past I would have said: Yes, it would be better. But with an 8-instrument ska band, that's nonsense. On the one hand, monitor speakers and stage floor space are limited in a live club. On the other hand, too many monitor speakers often make the small stages too loud. Monitoring should emphasise the nuances of sound above the quietest possible "background noise" on stage in such a way that the individual musician hears exactly what is needed.

The stage should sound harmonious even without monitors.

If the bass amp is already too loud,

the monitor mix will get louder and louder.

The volume of the amps on stage often leads to a gain-staging vicious cycle. Especially when the individual band members turn up the amp so far that they "hear themselves". If you notice this, talk to the musician, ask for the reasons and demonstrate how it is possible to do this with monitoring.

A practical example: Is the bass amp so loud on stage that the guitarist can no longer hear himself? Then there are two things that should not (!!!) happen:

  1. You push more and more of the guitarist's own guitar onto his monitor – and make the stage louder and more uncontrollable.

  2. The guitarist, in turn, cranks up the guitar amp. This is even more disastrous, because it makes the stage louder, the guitar speaker blasts into the first few rows of spectators, possibly in a bad balance with the PA system and the guitar speaker "bleeds" into other microphones on stage.


The first thing to do is always to turn down loud instruments to find a clean balance. There are instruments that do not amplify themselves: Keyboards and vocals. They have to find enough "space" on the monitors between the instruments, which are blasting on stage with amplifiers anyway.

Musicians should think about what they listen to while playing in the rehearsal room – and write it down!

When I am at the mixer and ask the musicians on stage what they want to hear, the worst answer is: "everything!" “. This does not work on a small wedge at the edge of the stage and is also a difficult way to work in general.

In the rehearsal room, think about what you are listening to when you navigate the song.

At the next rehearsal, just pay close attention to your "listening behaviour" in the songs. If you are already working in the rehearsal room with your own monitor speaker, you will automatically develop an understanding of what you need to hear.

Suggestions for monitoring on stage for individual musicians

  • Many bass players listen to the kick drum and hi-hat when playing. So that usually belongs on the monitor, unless the bass player is on stage close to the drums anyway. Then they can usually hear the essentials directly. Experience has shown that bass players tend to be frugal when it comes to monitoring – this is where "saving potential" lies.

  • For guitarists you can best decide depending on the proximity to your own guitar speaker. If the guitarist is standing directly in front of his speaker anyway, he may only need his singing voice on the monitor. Then you don't have to give monitor power to more guitar sound. However, if two guitarists are far apart because there is a female vocalist and a full horn section between them, both guitarists need a monitor to hear themselves and their band members on the other side.

  • Singers always need a monitor. Vocalists rely on melodies, such as keyboard and melody guitar.

  • Drummers usually sit at the back of the stage and therefore do not hear everything that is happening musically in front of them. A good mix of bass and rhythm guitar makes sense. But for some drummers, the click on the ear is enough.

  • The horns section often don't need individually mixed monitors, but rather a little rhythm instruments as a group. But you create a demand for monitors from the rest of the band because of your volume. Many horns are so loud on stage that they hear each other – but the rest of the band only hears horns. Then the singer in particular even needs two wedges at the front, where their voice is targeted.

  • DJs should regulate their monitor speaker at the booth-out themselves. Here you should definitely plan for more power, DJs usually need a high volume and a lot of bass – many monitor speakers and PA amplifiers reach their limits. We usually recommend a 3-way system like the MIRA-1/1.

Bands can set up a "monitor matrix" where the musicians enter what % they want to hear themselves and others.

Example of a monitor matrix

You can of course adapt this example. With more musicians with more columns or with more sound categories with more rows. Instead of a percentage, you could also use three levels of weighting: „++ / + / 0“

Monitormatrix - Download

Many monitor speakers are oversized for small club stages

Many club stages are around 6-10 meters wide and 3-5 meters deep. You don't need huge monitor speakers for this. They restrict the musicians' freedom of movement and blast very broadly all over the stage. Small, flat 200 watt monitors with a steep vertical beam angle are completely sufficient. Huge 400-watt monitor speakers will only fill the whole stage at a wide angle.

Example of stage monitoring with small monitor speakers for a classic rock band

Not enough inspiration for you yet? Nils Wittrock from The Hirsch Effect has a tip in this article for a standalone DIY in-ear monitor.