Live Sound Communications Techniques

By Kent Margraves

Live Sound Communications Techniques: Kent Margraves lists seven ways to communicate between the front-of-house or monitor console and the people on stage.

Below are various ways I’ve run into for accomplishing discrete communication in a live sound reinforcement setting – particularly worship experiences and concerts.   What other techniques have you seen, or used?

  • 1.       Talkback:  Simply a dedicated talkback mic plugged into the front-of-house or monitor console.    Some consoles have dedicated inputs and routing functions for this.  Or, a standard mic input channel can be used.    I prefer a switched mic so that the channel is always left open, routed, and ready (manually switched on at the mic).  This is especially nice when all performers are on wireless in-ear monitor systems.    I personally use this every time I mix.   Careful not to route to PA or any other audience.
  • 2.       Instant Messaging:  I guess this isn’t an audio function but it’s certainly in use in some venues between production and stage via laptops, desktops, smart phones.    I know… “kids!”
  • 3.       Hand signals: “old school”
  • 4.       Planted microphones:  First saw this with a touring artist that played trumpet and sang (with accompaniment trax).   He had a cheap wireless lavalier mic routed to an “always on” small powered speaker at front-of-house.   He could talk to the mixer at any time (poor guy!).   The artist was really good at being discrete about it.   This could also be recorded for production review, training, etc.   Careful not to route to PA or any other audience.
  • 5.       SMS, Twitter:  quite popular (via smart phones).   I don’t go a week without receiving multiple messages this way from on-stage musicians.   You know, the ones that always say “yes, of course I left my phone in the green room as directed.”    Producers do this too.   My phone sits on the console (no RFI issue with most good analog consoles and all digital desks thus far).   I know… “kids!”
  • 6.       Laser pointer:  I’ve done this many times in a very large, fan-shaped worship center from front-of-house, which is in a fairly high balcony.   A quick red or green dot on the carpet in front of a singer or musician is usually effective in getting their attention.   Careful – a poorly aimed pointer can be distracting to an audience.   Good prank material…
  • 7.       Command Channel:  This is a product feature unique to the Sennheiser SKM5200 handheld wireless microphone transmitter and EM3732U receiver.  DISCLAIMER:  I work for Sennheiser (education).  A discrete switch on the side of the transmitter allows the vocalist/talker to easily engage “command” mode.  This immediately routes the audio to an alternate XL output, or to both outputs simultaneously, at the receiver (a programmable preference).  This can be a slick way for a vocalist or presenter to quickly warn a producer, green room, musicians’ earphones, or anyone else  of a change of plan, a cue, a need, or whatever, without fear of being “hot” in the PA.  Quite handy!

What other techniques have you seen, or used?