6 Things to Consider When Transitioning to In-Ear Monitors

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In the ongoing efforts to improve our mixes and control stage volume, many churches look to in-ear monitoring (IEM) solutions for their musicians.  Whether you’re going the avenue of personal monitor mixers, a monitor console or running mixes from your front of house console, we’ve got six key things to plan for going into this transition to make it a successful one.

At a quick glance we need to consider hardware, training and planned integration. So it may not be something you jump into overnight. 

While there are a few considerations when it comes to hardware, there are a couple that will likely be of high importance.  

1. Wired vs Wireless

Wired vs wireless IEM’s really comes down to budget and practicality.

Typically we see a hybrid of these two systems as certain positions are tied to their stations  (drummers, keyboardist and electric guitarists) and don’t really benefit from the mobility of wireless IEM systems.  While your lead vocalist(s) and front line singer  position would ideally benefit from the wireless option.  This also helps keep the front edge of our stage free from excess cabling.

The decision for wired over wireless kits is typically dependent on budget, however if it does come down to a simple choice of one over the other, wireless is always a convenient choice as your musicians can take the stage prepped and listening to cues, countdowns, etc.

2. Stereo vs Mono

While the preference would always be to provide stereo mixes to our musicians, there are certainly times when a simple mono mix will get the job done. And depending on your budget and hardware limitations, this might be the first step toward migrating your team to personal IEM’s.

However, when running mono mixes we get all sources at equal levels in our left and right ears, leaving us with very little listening space while running the risk of our mix sounding cluttered and busy.  In running stereo we give ourselves the option of creating a natural listening space, panning various instruments left or right based on our proximity on the stage.  

Not only does this make our listening experience feel more natural, it alleviates some of the potential listening fatigue of hearing all sources “straight up the middle” or at equal levels in our left and right perspective.

While this does have a large impact on budget and hardware needs, as each mix requires a stereo feed, it’s a beneficial and added value to all stage musicians.

3. Room Microphones

Often overlooked, but an important element when migrating to personal IEM’s are room microphones.  These are your musicians connection to the audience.

The ideal hardware are shotgun (condenser) mics of some sort, as they can be placed inconspicuously and have a greater pick up distance. From time to time large diaphragm microphones can be used as they can provide a more general coverage, but they do need to be closer to the source, so they aren’t always a practical solution.

Room microphones provide spatial awareness, increase “feel”, and help eliminate the musicians sense of being isolated in a box.  

4. Mic Everything

Well, maybe not everything. But when transitioning to personal IEM systems, there will definitely be more mic’ing to do.

Depending on your room size, certain parts of the drum kit may not have needed to be amplified through your sound system. However when moving to IEM’s, everyone is now 100% reliant on the information being fed through the system.  So that high hat mic you never needed, or that guitar amp that was never run through the system will now be required for the musicians to hear each other and themselves; even if that sound is only directed through the IEM’s.

In addition, this allows all monitoring sources (like wedges, guitar amps and base amps) to be moved backstage or off stage, giving your sound tech much more flexibility in creating and managing the overall mix.

5. Prepare Your Musicians

Likely the most important part of the migrating process is communicating and preparing your musicians for the change. This is a massive learning curve for musicians and vocalist, so you need them on-board to the idea before attempting to make the shift.

A simple step you can take in scheduling a meeting before hand, outlining the reasons why the shift is taking place and articulating the benefits of this change – both from a overall mix perspective and a personal monitor mix perspective.  This will greatly improve your chances of success, generating positive attitudes and a team approach of working through the process of change.

Take the time to educate your musicians on what to expect and how things may “feel” different at first, but that your there to work through things as a team and will help them achieve success.  Most importantly, be patient. Change is never easy.

6. Get the Mix Right

It’s important to take the time with each musician to ensure their mix is at good level, allowing them to perform at their best.  Each person is unique and will require different levels and instrument volumes – so be patient. And while some mixes may look awkward, don’t assume the need to “fix” them if the listener is happy.  

Some musicians will enjoy the ability to have a studio-like mix with everything blended and their own signals slightly boosted, others may take a more minimalistic approach. Either way, to each their own. And while some advice and experimentation may be required, IEM’s provide a very upfront and personal look at what is being played and everyone experiences it a bit differently.  

It’s also important to note that variations in IEM brands and formats (custom moods vs generic isolating ear buds, multiple driver vs single driver) will provide different characteristics and can greatly impact how a listener hears their mix.  

So whether you choose a wireless, stereo mix from a monitor console or a mono wired mix from your front of house console or any other combination of possibilities, moving to an IEM system can bring your quality of audio to a greater level and provide your musicians with a greater tools to tackle the task at hand.  As with any new system, with the proper hardware, planning and training it can be a seamless and painless change.  But make sure not to rush into anything and plan for a few trial times before going live. 

Points about real vs “modelled” instruments

  • feel for the musician (comfort level)
  • volume control
  • over all tone/ sound
  • acoustic drums vs Electric drums, pro/ con
  • guitar amps vs modelling equipment

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