What does a Monitor Engineer do?

Feb 19, 2024

When most people think of being the sound engineer for a band, what they are usually referring to is the sound engineer whose role is mixing Front of House. 

The FOH Engineer is the person you see in the middle of the audience operating the soundboard and managing what the audience hears coming from the PA.

Let's face it, there is nothing quite like having the power of an incredible sound system at your fingertips, being surrounded by the electricity of anticipation from the crowd, and then the roar as the band hits the big stage. It is an experience like no other and a natural high.

But there is another position where the excitement and energy are also very palpable and even a bit more intense, and that is at the other end of the snake at the monitor console. The band's monitor engineer plays an equally important role in the performance. 

Both jobs come with a lot of responsibility:

The FOH engineer mixes for the audience. In its most basic form- sending a stereo mix to the PA for the audience to listen to. In larger shows and venues, it might involve subtle tweaks to the stereo mix for additional zones like front fill and delay speakers, and sometimes a broadcast mix.

The Monitor engineer mixes for the performers on stage. This includes the musicians, singers, dancers, etc. It can range from as simple as providing a couple of mixes shared by all the band members in a very small gig, to delivering a specific mix for each member of the band and their technicians resulting in numerous different mixes.

While the FOH engineer might be creating one mix for 20,000 people in the audience, the Monitor engineer might be tasked with 10 different mixes for a large band.  


Technical Skills

Monitor technology has progressed from a variety of speakers placed on the stage in the form of wedges, side fills, and drum fills to in-ear monitor systems or IEMs. 

Unless the show has a specific RF technician, it is usually the monitor engineer who handles all of the wireless needs which can include- scanning for, syncing, and monitoring clean frequencies for transmitters and belt-packs for instruments, microphones, and IEMs.  

A thorough understanding of signal flow through the monitor system is essential. Proper gain structure must be set to ensure all equipment functions properly. The ability to create clear and pleasing monitor mixes for each performer's needs requires good communication skills as well as an understanding of frequencies, EQ, and dynamics. Being adept at scenes and snapshot management on the monitor console will simplify mixing shows with a lot of cues.


Personal Skills

The FOH engineer is subject to the opinions of the audience members as well as the band's management, friends, family, and anyone else listening. We all know what opinions are like...😉 and everyone has one. Therefore you must learn to have confidence in your skills and trust your ears. You must also understand band politics and how to deal with those closest to the band giving you 'suggestions' on how to do your job. It's a delicate balance of tact and making someone feel heard while also mixing the best show for your artist and the venue.

The Monitor engineer is subject to not only the opinions but the mood of everyone on stage. If one of the band members is having a bad night or struggling with their performance for any reason, the monitor engineer is often in the direct line of fire, which is why the position is referred to as the hot seat.

Learning to not take things personally is an invaluable skill for monitor engineers. The job is equal parts psychology and technical skill. The best monitor engineers are adept at getting inside the heads of the performers, almost being able to tune into their needs before they even know what to ask for. An experienced engineer understands that the guitar player who was completely happy with his monitor mix at soundcheck and is complaining during the show that everything sucks despite nothing having changed, is upset from a fight he had with his girlfriend just before the show. His monitor mix is fine, he just needs someone to take it out on. It is a skill to be able to navigate that in a way that calms him down and helps him perform at his best. 


The stage end of the snake

Monitor engineers see the performance from a completely different view. They are in on the inside jokes between the band and their technicians during the show, often communicating directly with the musicians via eye contact, hand signals, etc. It can be a much more intimate role as the monitor engineer is often set up right on the side of the stage, while the FOH engineer might be 100' away out there in the middle of the crowd. Both have very different perspectives.

The band relies directly on the monitor engineer for what they need to perform at their best. While both FOH and Monitor engineer positions have their individual challenges and rewards.  Many people find the role of Monitor engineer to be exhilarating and gratifying in the challenges it presents. 

Maybe you want to give it a try?



By: Michelle Sabolchick