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Talk back mic

By: John Mills

This article is going to throw out some cool tricks for “talk back” setups with ear monitor systems.

What is a “talk back”. 

Simply, it is a microphone the sound guy uses to talk to the band.  It is very useful during sound check to clarify their needs.  It is also useful during a service where we need to get a message to the worship leader.  We can just wait for a pause in the music and say something like, “Excuse me, but the pastor just called me from his cell phone, and apparently he is locked in the restroom. I think you should do another song or two while we sort this out.”

How do they work?

    1. The straight-ahead “talk back”. 
      Some consoles have a mic built in with a few buttons that enable you to talk to certain aux mixes.  This is often the simplest and best approach.I’d much rather use a channel strip to setup my own talkback.  Just plug a mic (a cheap one with a switch works and is more than adequate) into the last channel on the board. Do not assign it to the main speakers. Only route it to the ear monitors or personal monitor systems.  This approach is a little more versatile than most “built in” systems. The only downfall of this setup is that there is no way for the leader to respond to us without the congregation hearing him.
    2. The simple “talk back” to the BAND setup. (see figure 1)
      In this setup we route the worship leader’s mic through a little box called the Panic Button (by www.ProCoSound.com).  This box has 1 input and 2 outputs.  Think of it like a Y cable with a toggle switch for each output. Output 1 will be sent to the house speakers via a channel on the console until you step on the switch, then it mutes output 1 and sends audio only out output 2. We setup output 2 to only route to the monitor system and not the house.Follow the wires and look at the house faders and aux sends to understand just what I’m talking about. Take special notice of Aux 2’s settings. Instead of taking the input to your monitor system from the Direct Out of the worship leader’s channel strip, we’ve used an aux send.  This way the personal mixer will only need 1 input for the lead vocal, the leader’s “talk back”, and our “talk back”.This system adds the ability for the worship leader to give messages to the band that the congregation does not hear.

 

  1. The really cool, secret “talk back” to EVERYONE setup.
    So up to this point we have the ability to talk to the band and/or worship leader with our mic, the worship leader can talk to the band, but how can he get us a message at FOH.  We could just solo his channel and listen on our headphones, but sometimes we’ve missed the message by the time we get our headphones on.

 

  1. But what if we could also add a way for him to step away from his main mic and still talk to the band & us. This setup should be pretty self-explanatory if you digested the last one.  Take a look at figure 2, we’ve got basically the same setup as figure 1, only this time we added a wireless lapel on the worship leader, and instead of using a Panic Button we are using a Power Mute (also by ProCo).  One thing to note about the Power Mute is that it is capable of a bunch of different options. Consult the manual and set it up so that it is in push-to-talk mode.  That is, it only turns on the mic when the footswitch is held down. It mutes again when your foot is taken off.In this setup the worship leader is free to step back away from his vocal mic, and “talk into the air” so to speak.  When he does that, he hits the Power Mute and we can hear him through the monitor routing we setup earlier.Now check out the the little powered monitor in the bottom right corner of figure 2.  For it to be unobtrusive try to locate it somewhere near your ear at FOH.  I’ve had good success setting mine on the rack just to my right, which happens to be just about ear level.  I don’t have to run it very loud at all.  The little monitor gets it input from the direct-out of the channel with the worship leader’s “talk back”.

The key to these setups are the little foot switches.  You could just wire a few XLRs to a switch but you’ll most likely get a pop every time the switch is clicked. The way these boxes work is by inserting a 40db pad on the output.  In effect it just turns down an output instead of unplugging it.

On another note, the worship leader is not necessarily the one who needs this system. We could dedicate one of these systems to, say, the keyboard player. It could then be their job to take cues from the worship leader, and relay them to the band, FOH engineer, and video department.

Tip: Make sure to spend a good deal of time during sound check getting this up and calibrated. For those musicians listening to the “talk back” aux send remember that it is silent until “talk back” is pressed.  So, from their perspective they might all of a sudden hear the voice of whoever is talking at an unreasonable volume in their ear monitors.

I think you can see, with a little thought, there are some pretty neat ways we can open up communication to and from the stage.  A team that can communicate gives a lot of freedom for the worship leader to actually lead instead of feeling constrained to the program.

Till next month,
John

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