Personal Monitoring and The Quiet Stage in 5 Steps

From the moment that contemporary church services went electric (and probably before), congregants have been making a lot of noise about volume control. How can your team get the best mix, the musicians the best sound, and everyone else the best experience?

The answer: the Quiet Stage. It has come to encompass the use of electronics to lower stage noise, a function of:

  • Personal in-ear monitors replacing floor or stage monitors
  • Amplifier modelers replacing traditional amps
  • Electronic instruments replacing acoustic ones (drums and keyboards, for example)

If the Quiet Stage is good for the house of worship environment, then why aren’t more churches doing it? Cost is one reason. With existing stage monitors and amps already on hand, it’s hard for a church with a small budget to justify the additional expense of a basic in-ear rig that can run into the hundreds of dollars. The pain of change is another. Musicians are accustomed to the sweet spots provided by their stage monitors.

With personal monitor systems offering more features at lower prices than ever before, now is the time to take the plunge, if you haven’t already. Here’s a step-by-step approach for getting started.

Step One: Be the Champion

Going “Quiet” demands an advocate who can champion the cause with those controlling the purse strings, and if possible, demonstrate the audible differences of clearer, more intelligible sound at reduced volume levels.

This person (you, maybe) also will be the one who works with your local sound contractor or music instrument retailer to develop a gear list and a budget. If you’re the one who’ll be wresting monitors and amps from the arms of your performers, get ready for a little pushback, and prepare to be the trainer. You’re the expert. You’re going to make it happen, even if it will be rolled out over time.

Step Two: Eliminate Floor Monitors

This should be easy, but many churches are still using them since old habits die hard. Personal monitors are a vast improvement over floor monitors, but new users sometimes feel cut off from the audience. Often, to compensate, they’ll remove one earbud. A better approach is to include in their mix ambiance from audience and stage mics, and have that level ride below the dry signal. Most advanced systems let the user hear two different mixes and also control the levels of the mixes.

Musicians reap the rewards of high-fidelity stereo sound at lower volume levels with less interruption from outside noise. Since the sound quality with personal monitors is superior to wedge mixes, singers can save their voices and focus on their musicianship. When performers create their own mixes with a personal monitor mixing system, the audio crew can focus on the house sound.

Another important point: Acoustic feedback (squealing) occurs when a microphone picks up the sound wave from a nearby loudspeaker.  Personal monitors reduce the likelihood of acoustic feedback by putting the “loudspeaker” in the user’s ear rather than on the floor.

Step Three: Eliminate the Amps and Speakers

Most electric guitar and bass players learned to play with the comfort of a nice little amp nearby. Anyone with a Hammond B3 has great affection for its massive partner, the Leslie speaker. Take these away, and you’ve essentially exiled some old friends.

Along with Shure and Yamaha, Aviom has been evangelical in spreading the gospel of the Quiet Stage. Here’s Aviom’s Chandler Collison:

“Guitar and bass amp modelers, for instance, are very effective substitutes for traditional amps. Because the tones are generated digitally, high acoustic volumes are not required to get the tight sounds guitarists and bassists want from their rigs.

The outputs of the modelers are run directly into the sound system. Because there is no acoustic sound, engineers have complete control over the levels in the house mix, and performers all have complete and independent control over the levels in their personal monitor mixes. Stage volume is dramatically reduced without detracting from the performers’ experiences.”

Step Four: Ditch Your Drum Kit

You’d never want to replace your vocalists with synthesizers, but so many improvements have been made in electronic drums that the house mix won’t be negatively impacted by this switch. Collison’s suggestion:

“Mount a bass enhancer such as a Bass Shaker or Butt Kicker to the drummer’s throne or to the underside of a small platform for the bassist.  This will restore some of the low frequencies lost in the personal monitors and give the performers the feel of standing in front of a loud bass cabinet or playing a miked kick drum.”

Step Five: Start Small If You Have To

Even if your congregation needs to build the Quiet Stage piece by piece, eliminating amps and wedges one by one will have an audible difference in the house mix and the overall quality of your worship events.

There are other benefits, too:

  • Consistent sound quality
  • Stereo imaging
  • Less vocal strain for singers
  • Protection against hearing damage
  • Cleaner stage, free of bulky floor monitors and amps
  • Increased gain before feedback
  • Lighter loads for portable churches that need to transport and store gear

How Shure Can Help

In October 2014, Shure announced the addition of PSM®300 to a personal monitor system series that includes recent high-tier additions PSM®900 and PSM®1000.

PSM 300 has two packaged system offerings: one designed for entry-level users (P3TR112GR), and a professional system (P3TRA215CL) with expanded features.

PSM300 Personal Monitor System Group Product Shot

What makes PSM 300 ideal for house of worship applications is its combination of easy set-up, one-touch frequency scan, advanced features, and budget-friendly pricing. This new system brings to the entry-level user the level of performance and durability that’s typically found in Shure top-tier PSM products.

All in all, the benefits of incorporating a Quiet Stage into your house of worship will more than likely pay for themselves in the added richness of the overall sound for your congregation, and the increased control for the praise and worship teams who use them.

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Davida Rochman

Davida Rochman

A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a lifelong career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Corporate Public Relations Manager, responsible for public relations activities, sponsorships, and donation programs that intersect with Shure at the corporate and industry level.

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  • Justin Williams says:

    Howdy, 5 years ago I was a Rock Singer but had to quit because of severe hearing loss. I want to resume my career but with quieter, acoustic songs in quieter venues (coffee houses, parties, etc.). Will In Ear Monitors protect me from further hearing loss? Also, is there a device I can use that detects the decibels of sound levels of venues? Thanks for your time.

    • Davida Rochman Davida Rochman says:

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for your question. Here is a reply from Chris Siuty, a member of the Shure Applications Group:

      In ear monitors will allow you to monitor at lower SPL’s, thus helping to prevent hearing loss. Our PSM products have a built in limiter which helps keep SPL’s at lower, more manageable levels, but like with anything sound related, it’s in the hands of the user to conserve their hearing. Monitoring at high volumes, regardless of floor wedges or in ear monitors will damage hearing.

      As far as dB/SPL, there are several SPL meter apps available for both, iPhone and Android. The one I have and like is called SPLnFFT Noise Meter and can be downloaded through the iPhone Apps Store. I can’t remember if it’s free or not (if it isn’t, it couldn’t have been more than $2.99), but while it isn’t 100% accurate, it definitely gets you in the ballpark. There’s some easy, basic calibration you need to do when entering an environment and from there, it gives you a readout with identifiers like “Almost silent,” “Loud: annoyance possible,” and “Intolerable.” Aside from that, if you want something more accurate, there are SPL meters out there ranging from $20 to several hundred and their accuracy and features are usually consistent with price.

      While an SPL meter is great, if you don’t understand what it means, it’s ultimately worthless. Here’s some links to understanding dB –

      From the Shure FAQ –
      http://shure.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1383/kw/db/session/L3RpbWUvMTQ2NTMxMjUwMS9zaWQvZnhqLUJzU20%3D

      From Reverb.com –

      https://reverb.com/news/on-tracks-what-is-a-decibel

      Hope this helps!

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