How to 'Ring Out' Your Stage Monitor System

How to 'Ring Out' Your Stage Monitor System: Part 2

March 17, 2017 12 Comments

 Ringing out" the monitors is an expression that describes the technique of locating and adjusting the frequencies most prone to oscillation in the stage environment to achieve the highest possible gain before feedback. Assuming you have set up the stage to your advantage as we discussed in Part 1, you should already have a good start towards achieving loud, clean monitors without feedback. Now it is time to optimize (or 'ring out') those monitors!


Remember that we talked about how sound is directional and can reflect off of surfaces in the room? Because of this everything on stage (including the musicians themselves) function as reflectors potentially contributing to creating a signal loop (feedback). So if possible, begin with all your players onstage in the spots they will take up during the show. This is a very good time to utilize your hearing protectors by the way - your players all use hearing protectors, right? In order to get rid of potential feedback you need to force it to happen at the sound check.

Start with a Level Playing Field

Give yourself a nice clean start by setting all your equalizer settings to zero. The equalization that worked in the last club (or even last night in some cases) won't necessarily work in your present situation, so start out with the EQs set "flat" with all the controls back at center. At best taking shortcuts will give you "not terrible" results. There is no substitute for doing this every time you set up on a new stage, if your goal is to achieve optimal stage monitoring. Using a graphic EQ for ringing out the monitors is the best choice. Then you can use the mixer’s channel EQ for tone, and many times the mixer’s channel EQ does not affect the monitor sends. Be sure to not be counterproductive turning up a frequency on the channel that you are trying to cut in the graphic EQ.

Make sure all the mics are switched on and the monitors are at nominal levels. This is important, because the entire monitor system interacts with itself. If you don’t have something on during sound check you will get a surprise during the show. Begin by slowly increasing the volume of the monitor you want to optimize until you notice it is beginning to feed back slightly. Rushing will only cause painful levels of feedback that will likely offend whoever is working around you during sound check, but if you go slowly and listen carefully you should be able to detect a slight ringing just as the signal loop begins to oscillate. Remember feedback is telling us which frequency needs to be lowered? When you hear that ringing, try dipping your equalizer at the frequency of the oscillation. Make the smallest adjustment that corrects the feedback; don't over-do your equalization! Another trick you can use if you think you know the frequency is to turn up the monitor and work with the graphic EQ. Here you slightly increase the EQ frequency band level to see if it increases the feedback. If you can initiate and terminate the feedback by moving a particular fader on your graphic EQ you have found the offending frequency or at least one of the offending bands. Adjust as needed, but avoid over-compensating because extreme EQ settings can make the audio signal sound unnatural. Also as mentioned in Part 1, turning down most of the bands on the graphic EQ is not helpful if you need to turn up the volume again to hear it. This is turning your graphic EQ into a simple volume control.

At first it will seem like a guessing game, but with experience both you and your musicians will start to recognize the offending frequencies. This is a great reason to tell the players onstage which frequency was ringing, because it will teach them to recognize the various frequencies as well, and will make them more valuable assets during future sound checks.

Repeat the Process to Eliminate All the Remaining Feedback Frequencies

Once the signal loop is no longer feeding back, raise the monitor volume once again until another frequency begins to feed back. Find the new frequency and dip it also, continuing to increase the volume of the monitor and dipping each feedback frequency until you start to get feedback at multiple frequencies all at once. When this happens you have reached unity gain on that monitor. That is all the level you can get out of that monitor without feedback, of course complaints from your more hearing-impaired band members notwithstanding. Imagine the air onstage is "saturated" at this point and "can't hold any more sound pressure." This isn't entirely accurate strictly speaking, but it is a good way to visualize that you have no more gain available on that part of the stage. Reduce the volume of the monitor a few dB to put it well below the feedback saturation point. This will give you some headroom during the show. Now move to the next monitor channel. If the performer still isn't satisfied with their monitor level you might try relocating the monitor closer to their ears or move an offending microphone. You will have to start the ring out process over on that monitor channel if you change anything.

After you have finished 'ringing out' all of your monitor channels have the band play a song at their normal performance level. Odds are that someone in the band will complain they "need more monitor." Try this old sound tech's trick to satisfy your most demanding performers: Take careful note of the exact volume setting on that player's monitor. Tell your performer you're going to "reset the monitor" and have them provide a test signal. Turn the monitor all the way down and slowly bring it back up to just below that previous level. Inevitably the player will say, "That's pretty good, but can I get just a tiny bit more?" Finish raising the monitor to its previous level. This will usually satisfy most performers, since they asked for more and got it, and the process of turning the monitor down and back up again allows the musician's ears to 'reset' so they can perceive the true level of the monitor. Sometimes the process of 'ringing out' can disrupt the performer's perception of volume in the same way it takes a few seconds to hear again after a loud jet passes overhead.  Plus, if you did get a few strong feedback signals during ringing out, everyone needs a reset.

The more carefully you set up and adjust your sound system the better your results, and the less headaches you'll develop in the process. Always focus on the basics, because a solid foundation is the secret of building a great sounding show. What are your experiences and tricks to good monitors and ringing out the system? Let us know in the comments.

12 Responses

Larry Cook
Larry Cook

April 12, 2017

Have been doin this for years. I have a Peavy sorry feedback locator that lights up the frequency enabling you to locate it quickly. If the bands not arrived just play different music to test the sound. It works..

ekemini
ekemini

April 04, 2017

nice tips

Chris OBrien
Chris OBrien

March 29, 2017

Great article! I remember many years ago, when I first started running sound, the guy who was teaching me the tricks of the trade gave me a monitor, a mic and a 31 band EQ and told me to go set it up and make it feed back and learn my frequencies. Thanks Tommy! I still have sound guys and musicians ask me “Hey, what frequency is that?” Important lesson!!!

Dan Burke
Dan Burke

March 23, 2017

Great article! What about when you have to set up in a place that is already full of people and you really cant do a sound check and ringing out the monitors and mains is a no no? Any advise on getting a good sound in this situation? Is there such a thing as an auto-EQ?

Dale
Dale

March 19, 2017

Just a general comment. I appreciate the easy-to-read, yet still detailed information given in these mailings! It’s good writing! Nice job, and thank you!

Cj
Cj

March 18, 2017

Awesome advise! This is truly the only way to tame your monitor system.
Now can you tell us how to ring out whining from the band? LOL!

Glenn
Glenn

March 18, 2017

Absolutely brilliant and what a much needed topic to cover. I remember arguing with rookie sound techs who didn’t understand the “ringing out” concept and told me I was crazy by doing it. With practice one will be able to locate the trouble frequencies very quickly. Great job Carvin!

Ken
Ken

March 18, 2017

Great article! It tackles the difficult but ever-present problem of dealing with feedback. As with any best solution, it’s not the quick & easy fix that gets the job done well. I wish all the sound booth people would read and follow this!

Animal
Animal

March 17, 2017

Our sound man (not a pro until he became a pro through our band!) followed this procedure when Bits ‘n’ Pieces started in 1978. The “ringing out” process is not fun, but it does really work. Somehow, through experience, he found some settings that became fairly standard and reliable, at least for us at most venues we played. We played 5-6 nights a week, usually 2-4 weeks in location, and played our home in Kalamazoo, MI for two years, then traveled the Midwest for another two years. Bill became expert at his job and we always got many compliments on the band sound!

Amanda
Amanda

March 17, 2017

Is this done with people onstage? How will those bodies affect the feedback?

Dave
Dave

March 17, 2017

That’s a great suggestion Mark had about bringing your own back drop to each gig. That will help keep stage mix much more consistent!
I try to get the vocalists to stand at their mic when ringing out the monitors, to mimic the sound reflection off of them into the mic.
Of course you all know sometimes that’s like herding cats!!!

Michael
Michael

March 17, 2017

Your “trick” for getting a performer to accept no change in monitor level when they ask for an increase is counterproductive. If you have them listen to their level without the rest of the band they have no way of knowing if their level is good or not. If they asked for more monitor while the whole band was playing give them more monitor. If this causes feedback fix it.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Audio Info & Education

Tips for Traveling with Microphones
Tips for Traveling with Microphones

April 17, 2018 8 Comments

Alongside other equipment like guitars, amps, and even effects pedals, microphones are comparatively small and portable. As such, it may be tempting to simply stow them away in your gig bag pocket or backpack. While that certainly may work (there are some heavy-duty gig bags out there!) when it comes to touring and extensive gigging it can be wise to protect your investment a little more. Microphones take a lot of abuse when they are onstage, so transporting them securely and properly from offstage will help extend their life. The last thing you want is a microphone that functions intermittently or gives up the ghost mid-gig!

Read More

Lavaliere Mic Basics
Lavaliere Mic Basics

March 28, 2018

Getting a good sound out of a lavaliere mic takes knowledge, patience and persistence. It is somewhat ironic, the mic we most commonly use for talk presentations on stage or on camera is one of the most difficult to position for quality tone and intelligibility. But properly employed, a lavaliere allows the speaker to address the audience naturally. With some care and precautions, a lavaliere can achieve a very good sound.

Read More

Getting Started in Live Sound: Microphone Basics
Getting Started in Live Sound: Microphone Basics

March 20, 2018 2 Comments

Getting started in sound reinforcement can seem daunting. Tech talk sounds like a stream of random letters and numbers (and nicknames for numbers). Fortunately, with a basic understanding of how sound systems work, and the tools of the trade, you can learn to achieve good sound. The tech talk takes longer to master and arguably matters less.

Read More