The Seven Rookie Mistakes Worship Teams Make With Personal Mixers

I remember the first Sunday in our new church building (after doing mobile church in a local high school for years):

  • The sound system was amazing.
  • The air conditioning worked.
  • The seating was comfortable.
  • And there was no hour-long setup or interference from an all-day volleyball tournament.

But you know the thing that excited me the most? Two words: Personal. Mixer.

No longer did I have to share a single monitor mix with a co-leader, three BVGs, five instrumentalists, and my neighbor’s dog. OK, so the dog might be an exaggeration.

While personal monitor mixing is immensely freeing compared to sharing wedges, it comes with its own set of issues that can be harmful to you, your team, and ultimately the congregation that you’re leading.

Like any tool we use for worship, we can use it poorly. Here are seven rookie mistakes you might be making with your personal mixer.

1. Wanting The “Perfect Mix”

The point of a monitor isn’t to give you a perfect house or studio mix. The monitor’s job is to keep you in-time and on-pitch.

So even though you CAN work to create a killer mix in your ears, you should just focus on what you need to keep from going off the rails (sonically and rhythmically).  

2. Running Too Hot

Too loud, too old, right? Not when it comes to monitors. When you run your overall volume too hot, you’re either hurting your house mix or your hearing.

If you’re running your personal mixer into a powered monitor, stage volume could likely be an issue. Ask your sound tech if your volume is appropriate for the room.

And if you’re running to IEMs, have mercy on your eardrums. I’m trying to get in the habit of turning down the master volume (or the volume on my pack) at least once during rehearsal and warm-ups. As we adjust individual channels, our overall volume can too easily creep up.   

3. Not Panning

If you’re running IEMs rather than a powered monitor, you have the distinct advantage of panning individual instruments and voices along the stereo spectrum. Panning lets you hear everything more distinctly than having every element jammed in the center.

4. Turning Up Instead of Taking Out

This mistake is something I picked up from when we were using wedges. Each musician wants to hear more of him/herself in the monitor (the “more me” problem). It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happens if the sound tech accommodates each “more me” request.

So I encouraged my sound techs to respond to a musician’s request for “more me” by asking, “What do you need less of in your monitor?”

The same goes for our personal mixer. When we turn up one element in our in-ear mix, that will bury another element. So we turn that element up. Which buries another. And just like that, you’ve topped out all your channels (and created a mess of a mix).

Remember, the monitor’s job is to keep you in-time and on-pitch. Take out or turn down what’s not essential to accomplish that job. And if you’re frustrated that your mix doesn’t sound like a studio recording, see Mistake #1.

5. Not saving your mix.

What happens when the youth pastor’s kid gets on the stage and starts turning knobs and pushing buttons on your monitor mixer sometime between rehearsal and Sunday? All that work to dial in your mix is gone.

Save your settings.    

6. Click? What Click?

It’s disheartening to look at the settings of my team members’ Avioms and find that the click channel is turned way down (or even off). If your team runs a click track, turn it up. It’s the musical North Star helping your team stay together.

7. Too Much Me.

This is the milk and honey of the Personal Mixer Promised Land: I FINALLY get to hear myself!!

One problem: most players and singers take it too far. Their mixer becomes a mirror. All they want to do is admire their own sonic beauty.

Again, what’s going to keep you on-time and on-pitch? Hearing yourself, yes. Hearing ONLY yourself, no. Also, this is one of those places where team members can display maturity. It’s NOT all about me—musically or spiritually.

Like I mentioned before, the personal mixer is a tool just like our instrument, our microphone or our voices. We need to learn how to use it properly to help accomplish the goal of serving the congregation and worshiping God.

A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Worship Musician Magazine.

Jon Nicol