Pre-Fade or Post-Fade, That is the Question!

Introduction

Recently, I was involved in a debate (more like a series of text messages) with someone over the proper monitor setting for the pastor’s microphone.  Thinking that there may have been some bit of information that I was missing, I sent out a message to some of my social network contacts that are also audio engineers.  It got passed on a few times and I got responses from people I know and people that I don’t know.  I ended up with a good, broad set of knowledgeable engineers.  Not only did I get their settings, they told me WHY they set it that way.

My results were quite interesting and a bit surprising.  It wasn’t the actual answer that surprised me (the results will come later), it was that everyone had an answer and no one said, “It depends.”  Yes, even though I have a setting that I use and feel its the right one, I believe that the correct answer is “it depends” because my setting now may not be the correct setting somewhere else with another pastor or speaker.

The reason I say that it depends, is that there are four factors that need to be taken into consideration:

  1. Your Room.
  2. Your Equipment.
  3. Your Operators.
  4. Your Pastor.

The Factors

1. Your Room.  This is the big factor in the use of any monitors.  If you have a room that is small and/or reverberates a lot, your use of monitors will be different that a larger room with acoustic dampening materials in use.  In an active room, the pastor/speaker may not need any monitor feed at all because they will probably get enough feedback from the mains.  If your room doesn’t allow this, you’re going to need to provide some feedback in the monitors.

2. Your Equipment.  Some systems that I have worked on in the past did not allow for different monitor/auxiliary send settings.  Many of the older systems were hard-wired at pre-fader and the only way to get post-fader was to utilized an effects channel.  Unfortunately, using such a method meant that ALL channels were either pre-fader or post-fader.  In this case, you had to pick one method for every channel. 

A church I used to work at had a Peavey 1621.  The auxiliary sends were pre-fader and there was no on/mute button for the channels.  If the pastor failed to hit his mute button on the belt pack, we had to turn down the volume on the receiver to keep him from coming through the monitors.  If you work with equipment such as this it will greatly affect what you can do.

3. Your Operators.  Yes, even your operators that run your systems have an effect on whether to use pre-fader or post-fader.  Every operator will have a slightly different level that they feel the pastor/speaker should be at.  The variance of those levels between the operators will determine what setting your use.  Also, be aware that other settings on the board that the individual operators use can effect the monitor level even if the house level is the same.  This can become a big issue with today’s digital boards and church’s having different styles of worship services all within the same weekend.

4. Your Pastor.  This is probably the biggest factor that will determine what setting you will use.  You may get a rare circumstance in which the pastor/speaker doesn’t want to hear themselves through the monitors, but don’t count on this.  Usually they will want to hear something, the only determination is how attuned they are to it and any changes that occur.  If you have a pastor that is very particular about his monitor level, you’re best to set it to pre-fader to keep his level constant no matter what the house level is set to.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that will go into your decision.  Many operators have a setting that they use and will probably always use that setting, regardless of any other extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way it should be.  There have been times in the past that I have set the pastor/speaker to pre-fader and some times that I have set it to post-fader.  If you asked me what you should set it to, I would say “It depends.”

Query Results

The results from my query came back 60% to 40% in favor of a pre-fader setting.  That really didn’t surprise me.  I wasn’t expecting everyone to be using the same setting.  I was expecting that a pre-fader setting would be preferred based on my past experience and conversations I’ve had with other audio engineers. 

Those that responded pre-fader stated they did it for the same reason as other vocal microphones: so that the monitor level remained constant regardless of any house level changes.  Those that responded post-fader stated that they did it to prevent the pastor/speaker from coming through the monitors when he/she went off-stage.  That surprised me because every one of them that stated that have newer consoles that have an on/mute button, which is designed to prevent such an occurrence.

My Settings

Most of my past setups have had the pastor/speaker on a post fader setup.  This was mostly due to the equipment that was being used.  The rooms were small and the pastors weren’t too concerned about the monitor level, so this type of setup worked out just fine.

Now I am working in a whole different set of circumstances.  I have a very “dry” room that doesn’t allow the pastor to hear himself through the house system, so the monitors are his only source of vocal feedback.  We also have three different audio engineers that all use different board settings on two different types of services.  The pastor’s microphone and monitor channels are on recall safe, so any changes are propagated across all scenes.  Since the pastor relies heavily on his monitor level, the only way to make sure he gets what he wants and needs is to use a pre-fade setting.

Conclusion

Whenever you are setting up for a pastor or speaker, take all of the factors into consideration.  Make sure you know how those factors affect what is required by the pastor/speaker.  Make sure you understand how your system works and work with your crew to ensure that your pastor/speaker has the proper levels that he wants and needs. 

Be open to input from your crew and remember that you are always learning!  Avoid getting into the mindset that “I do it this way because that’s what I’ve always done.”  As time, equipment and room conditions change, your methods will need to change with it.  Know your equipment and utilize its features to provide the best possible audio levels for not only those in the seats, but for those on the stage as well.

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