One of the weird experiences of playing loud rock music is that of not being able to hear. No, I don’t mean the dulled hearing that many of us ex-musicians are experiencing later in our lives. What I’m talking about is standing 5 feet away from someone who is singing their lungs out and watching their lips move without hearing any of it. Watch how most bands set up – the amplifiers are behind the musicians but the PA system speakers – the ones from which the vocals emanate – are in front of the band, closer to the audience. This is why there are also usually monitors of some sort.
You’ve seen them, maybe without knowing what they were: the boxes in front of the band that face backwards. Today, of course, those might be prompters that show the singers the lyrics (at one point I would have attributed that need to drugs and alcohol; now it’s usually age) since most musicians seem to wear ear monitors that let the singer hear whatever mix helps them stay on time and in tune. Good business lesson too!
On a lot of old Dead concert tapes you hear Bobby or Jerry (the main singers!) asking for more monitor volume. That’s so they can hear one another. They used to put instruments through the monitor mix as well, and in a band that often was making up the music as they went, it was pretty important that each member could hear what the others were doing and not just play by rote. Having played in places where I couldn’t hear the other vocals or some of the other musicians (their amps were facing out and I was on the other side of the stage), I can tell you that not being able to hear takes a lot of the enjoyment out of performing and makes it work. Who wants to spend a night in a bar doing that?
The business world is the same. Each business needs a series of monitors in order to hear customers, co-workers, and market conditions. If you aren’t hearing them, you have virtually no chance of making beautiful music together. What’s worse is if you’re not even trying to listen and just playing on your own. Believe me, those listening and watching – your customers and your competitors – notice.
What monitors do you have in place? Are you mixing them so you can hear? Tell us!