The rise of the in-ear monitor

Is the ear monitor to blame for some of the bad sound coming from the gospel stage? Some commenters think so. Thus Thom:

Another thing that may have contributed to the poor house mixes the last couple of years is the IN EAR monitor that so many groups are using. I understand the appeal: No big monitors to lug around, (sometimes platforms are too small to accomodate big monitors anyway), each singer can control his own monitor volume etc, etc. BUT, if you are only mixing your sound to sound right in your own monitor then you are often neglecting your sound quality in the house mix. And if you are wearing an ear monitor, please try not to fool with it all night long. Someone asked me why a certain singer was always “scratching his back” “he must have dry skin!” I laughed and said “no, he was trying to get his ear monitor adjusted!” LOL. plus I’ve heard people ask..”is he wearing a hearing aid?” etc. Just get the thing set right before the concert begins or take it out.

Reader MM likes the in-ear monitor he uses, but with an important caveat:

I have just started using an in ear monitor as I direct our church choir. they are fantastic. But the first thing i noticed is that wearing an ear bud in each ear, you are totally detached from the audience. You cannot hear anything but the monitor in your ear. I still kept one bud in, and could hear the mix fine, as well as listen to the choir and the house sound. I recommend the in ear only if you have a sound man mixing for you, and you only use one ear bud.

What MM says about being detached from the audience lines up with something Libbi Perry Stuff writes in a comment as well:

I wouldn’t wear them if I didn’t have too, due to the fact that it does take away the live feel. We have a crowd mike but sometimes it just isn’t the same effects. We have a sound man, and he worked hard in Fort Myers, but that’s just a hard building to get good sound in.

I asked her later in a follow-up exchange to elaborate on in-ear monitors. She says that she and Tracy Stuffle have to use in-ear monitors in order to hear properly, while Nick Trammel and Joseph Habedank use floor monitors:

I think [ear monitors are] why singers sometimes look as if they are singing to a brick wall. You just don’t have the live presence in ear monitors.

I must say, all this is a pretty convincing, if not air-tight, case that the in-ear monitor at least contributes to bad sound (even if it isn’t a direct cause of it) by disconnecting artists from too many of the externals that would otherewise help them notice problems with and ask for adjustments to the house mix. So with all this lined up against ear monitors, is the portability and compactness worth it? Is there a way to use in-ear monitors that don’t cut artists off from the live experience?

Update: Commenter T-Bone writes:

The other thing that should be noted is that a “good house mix” is a subjective thing in the first place. Just because you may think the “piano was buried in the tracks” doesn’t mean that the group performing would necessarily agree. Everyone seems to assume if the house mix isn’t to their liking that it’s because the artist is unaware of how it sounds. In many cases that may be true, but I also believe that many times the artists are fully aware of what the house mix sounds like and perfectly satisfied with it as such.

I find this both persuasive and a bit dubious. Yes, good house mix is subjective, but not entirely relative. The kind of sound, for instance, that I heard at the Perrys/BFA thing last week couldn’t have possibly been esteemed “good” by any acceptable professional standard. Could it have been better and still not suited me? Yup. But it seems likely that the disconnectedness universally attributed to ear monitors must be contributing at least in part to bad house mixes that go uncorrected.

Email this Post

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. www.southerngospelblog.com » In-Ear Monitors on 11 Jan 2007 at 12:18 pm

    […] Doug Harrison at the Averyfineline blog has an interesting post on in-ear monitors. Since it’s a slow news day (so far) and I don’t have anything else to comment on, I’ll point you to his interesting post. […]

Comments

  1. Greg wrote:

    We only carry Mic’s and ear monitors because we fly but we have filmed two live projects and numerous TV functions and we have never worn our ear monitors during those tapings..We can’t leave them alone! They sound great but you have to set the house first, get it perfect and then set your ears. As you pointed out, many groups are more concerned with ear sound …Libby is a great power singer and most power vocalist can’t stand ears…It’s just not the same…

  2. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    When a group wearing ear monitors has no sound man in the house AND they do a poor job of setting sound, it’s a lethal combination. I’ve seen groups using in-ears that had horrible mixes in the house and they were oblivious to it.

    At the same time, I’ve seen groups with floor monitors who appeared to be equally clueless about their bad mix.

    Then there are other groups that seem to have consistently good mixes every time you see them perform. Some of these use in-ears and some don’t.

    I think it’s not so much a symptom of equipment, but more a problem of groups not knowing how to set sound.

  3. T-Bone wrote:

    Regardless of whether a group uses floor monitors or in-ears, they must have a capable sound man in the house if they expect to have a high quality mix in the house. Bad sound techs and groups who choose to tour without a sound tech are the primary causes of sound problems in SG, not in ear monitors. You won’t find any other genre of music where major touring artists travel without a qualified sound tech to set their gear and operate it throughout the concert. You’ll also notice that in these other genre’s, where ear monitors are almost always used, you won’t hear nearly as much complaining about house sound as you exit the event. This is just another area SG has fallen way behind.

    I agree that the in-ear can sometimes cause a bit of disconnectedness with the audience, but this is not a problem that can’t be overcome by an artist who is aware of that possibility.

    The other thing that should be noted is that a “good house mix” is a subjective thing in the first place. Just because you may think the “piano was buried in the tracks” doesn’t mean that the group performing would necessarily agree. Everyone seems to assume if the house mix isn’t to their liking that it’s because the artist is unaware of how it sounds. In many cases that may be true, but I also believe that many times the artists are fully aware of what the house mix sounds like and perfectly satisfied with it as such.

  4. KB wrote:

    I have used the in-ears when “guest singing” with a VERY well-known group on several occassions. They are indeed great for personal mixes, but you might as well be in a sound booth. You hear absolutely NOTHING from the outside world (especially if you use the custom-fitted ear pieces, which many prefer).

    It DOES help musicians stay tight, however. The band that plays with this group (5-piece) loves using them. Of the four vocalists, two use them with very little [visible] trouble and one usually has some kinks to iron out through the show (most obvious when one of the ear pieces is pulled out). The fourth member refuses to use in-ears. He is the only person on the stage with a floor monitor, and he will not give it up. He says that when he used the in-ears, he noticed that he was constantly singing sharp.

    An advantage to using the in-ears, however, is the ability to communicate with the entire stage discreetly. The aforementioned group places a “fifth mic” in front of the drums, and if any songs are changed, or any special instructions are needed, they are spoken into this extra mic, and only those with the headphones can hear it. It also explains a lot of spontaneous laughing on stage, as quite a few jokes can be told this way, too!!

  5. Videoguy wrote:

    DBM has given the definitive answer to the subject. I would like to add that IEM’s will just help tip your system over the edge if it’s already wobbly. They are an enhancement, not a cure.

    Are they worth the compactness & portability? In the hands of a skilled sound tech, yes. They are great in eliminating ambient spillover from floor monitors, giving the house sound tech more control over the house mix and the audience’s experience. In the hands of the unskilled, IEM’s serve more function as trotline weights.

    For the artist, there is a psycological adjustment to make because IEM’s will throw off the proximity effect. You have to constantly set aside messages from the brain signaling something is just wrong - while being a musician. The two solutions are: mic’ing the house and putting that channel in the IEM’s, or monitoring one ear only. Personally, a house mic in the IEM’s just doesn’t cut it for me - it ain’t the same. The others I work with concur that one-ear monitoring is the way go.

  6. Videoguy wrote:

    You said that “it seems likely that the disconnectedness universally attributed to ear monitors must be contributing at least in part to bad house mixes that go uncorrected.”

    I’m sorry, but to attempt running sound with an IEM is just silly. Bad sound is a personnel problem, not an IEM problem.

  7. Videoguy wrote:

    You said that “it seems likely that the disconnectedness universally attributed to ear monitors must be contributing at least in part to bad house mixes that go uncorrected.”

    I’m sorry, but to attempt running sound while wearing an IEM is just silly. Bad sound is a personnel problem, not an IEM problem.

  8. Dean Conklin wrote:

    I think somebody has already said you can experience “bad sound” even if the artists are not using in-ear monitors. That precludes IEM from being the sole culprit. Two other factors, I believe, are accompaniment (live and/or tracks) over-riding voices, and monitors with vocal feedback running so hot that the singers are lost.

  9. MD wrote:

    One thing in relation to ear monitors that hasn’t been brought up is, while wearing one may help with the artist being able to hear the audience, it is the main culprit of hearing loss/damage to the ear drum. The artist turns up the monitor louder than it should be to get the level they want, whereas, if they were wearing two IEM’s, they wouldn’t run it near as loud. It’s rare to see an SG artist wear two IEM’s, but most of your country and CCM acts do and they seem to connect with the audience fine, probably due in part to the majority of audiences being mic’ed or demonstrative enough for the artist to feel the energy whether they can hear it or not.

    Encouraging wearing one IEM is encouraging a whole generation of artists with major hearing loss….some artists refuse to wear two and whether they realize it or not, they’re damaging their hearing. I’ve seen several acts have both ear and floor…the ear mainly to allow the ability to walk through the audience if they desire and they don’t run the ear as loud.

  10. tater wrote:

    The day quartets started using four microphones, (thanks J.D.) it became essential for them to have a soundman. In-ears or no.

    I personally think that most bass singers require them. Other than that they are just a gadget that people think they need because “big time so-and-so” has one.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

*

*