Ground Up Basics: In Ear Monitors

How many times have you struggled with keeping your band on tempo?  How often have you wanted to include a loop, but can’t keep everyone together enough to properly pull it off?  How many times have you nearly come to blows arguing with your sound guy about getting more of your electric guitar in your stage monitor?  — We ALL have been there, but there is a great solution.  If you don’t already use them, let me show you some benefits of investing in an In Ear Monitor solution.

I grew up playing in bands with wedges and amps blasting my ears off, trying to walk that fine line of getting enough of each instrument in each monitor mix without overpowering the house mix.  About 5 years ago I had my first opportunity to use In-Ears, and I never wanted to go back.  Here are the immediate benefits I learned:

  • Tempo management: the band can use a click machine or click track and stay in perfect synch.  The audience thinks you have perfect timing and s none the wiser!
  • Perfect mix: you can often (depending on which solution you go with) cater the in-ear mix exactly to your liking.  You can mute instruments, boost levels of each individual channel, and often even pan elements in stereo.
  • Communication: With use of a talk back mic in the booth, you can be kept abreast of everything that is going on.  You can get counted in for a cue, informed of an equipment failure or signal issue with an instrument, and even asked to stretch out a pad for a transition.
  • Sound control: The stage can be kept nearly silent, aside from drums of course.  The front of house sound engineer (lofty title) can far more easily manage the house mix with less sound bouncing back from the stage.

Common solutions usually begin with the use of a digital soundboard, although not always.  A digital workstation merely allows much more ability to create individual mixes to be sent out to each band member.  It also allows for settings, EQs, mixes, sends, and lots more things to be stored, copied, and pasted around the board.

A very common option is an AVIOM system.  You can end up investing a pretty penny depending upon what elements you buy.  The biggest benefit to the AVIOM system is that each band member gets their own individual mixer.  You can adjust your personal mix at any time and store several different mixes in each mixer.  AVIOM can be used with many digital or analog workstations and transfers all sound data over simple cat5 ethernet cable.  We invested in an AVIOM system late last year and it has been very helpful.

There are other cheaper alternatives you can come up with if money is super tight.  You can output to several separate mixes on stage and , instead of attaching a wedge, tying into an individual analog powered mixer, which you can then wire headphones to.  The headache here can be cobbling together mixers or having enough individual mixes that can be sent from your sound board.  Also, it is really frustrating to be a worship leader that is tethered to a device with a long headphone wire.

None of these systems are completely without the occasional headache.  Each sound system is different.  Also, what headphones you use makes a HUGE impact on your in ear mix.  You can technically use anything from ipod headphones up to $1000 custom 5-driver reference quality monitors.  I would suggest using something that is designed as an in-ear monitor.  Shure, Sennheiser, Ultimate Ears, and M-Audio all make several varying levels of universal in-ears.  I would start with something from one of these companies.

In conclusion, if you don’t already implement in ear monitors, I definitely recommend it!  Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or need advice.  If I can’t answer your question, I am sure I can find a good answer.


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