Choosing the Right In Ears or Headphones for You – Music To Your Ears!
Veteran Technical Director and CCI Solutions Church Relations Director, Duke DeJong continues his series of articles on using personal monitors in live sound for worship. Join Duke on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ccisolutions. & www.twitter.com/ccisolutions
Over the past few Worship Tools newsletters, we've been discussing how personal monitor mixers can benefit your worship and some tricks and tips to help that transition be a successful one. In this final installment I want to give you one last tip and then give you an idea of how I might set up a 16 channel personal mixer.
So often I've seen churches invest thousands into these systems and then go to Best Buy and get cheap ear buds for the musicians to use. That is the fastest way to make your musicians dislike their personal monitor systems. Imagine if you purchased an expensive, custom-made acoustic guitar. Would you buy the cheapest strings and pickups you could for it? No, you would be sure to use good strings and a good pickup to get all you could out of your investment in this guitar. Personal Monitor systems are no different.
Choosing How to Listen to Your Mix!
So everyone has to go out and buy the most expensive set of custom molded in-ears you can find, right? Wrong. While I believe musicians and singers who use in-ears 3-4 times every week will be significantly happier with custom in-ears, choosing the right way to listen to your personal monitor mix is just as individual of a choice as the instrument you prefer to play. So why do custom in-ears? If you wear your in-ears for more than a few hours per week, you may notice your ears get sore or feel achy after having them in for a while. This is from ear fatigue, which comes from the fact that wearing something that doesn't quite fit your ears will start to irritate them much faster than something that is custom fit. If you use in-ears more than 4-5 hours per week, I would strongly consider getting custom molds made for your in-ear solutions.
In addition to the custom molded route there are a variety of quality universal-fit products that work well too. Options from Shure, Ultimate Ears, Westone and other manufacturers provide high-quality audio to your ears and are very low-profile so most people in the congregation aren't even aware you are wearing them. The trick with universal-fit phones is taking the time to try all of the various styles and sizes of tips that the manufacturers provide as samples when you purchase the phones. Find the ones that are most comfortable and give you the best seal from outside noise.
For drummers, good isolation headphones with a little extra bass response may be a more preferred option than in-ears. I find the same often holds true for bass guitarists.
Choosing the right in ear solution for you really comes down to your personal preference. What I've learned is while I can make an educated guess as to what option a particular musician will like better, until they get a chance to try some options you can't really be sure. When making the move to personal monitor systems my recommendation is to pick up one each of two or three quality options and allow the musicians to tell you which they felt most comfortable with, after all if they are not comfortable with the listening device, they won't use the mixer and your investment is wasted.
Putting it all Together!
Once you've selected the right personal mixing system and the musicians have the phones that are going to work well for them, you will need to spend time helping your musicians learn how to use the system. One big issue to solve is how to break out the individual sound sources or groups of sounds to match up to the mixer channels you have in your system.
Recently I had the opportunity to help a church in New York to install their new Aviom system, and we quickly ran into the problem that most churches have. All personal monitor systems have a limited number of channels available to use on the personal monitor mixer and that number is usually less than the number of channels you actually use. In this case, the Aviom system gave us a 16 channels to use, but there were 38 inputs (not including effects, CD, Video, etc). Since personal monitor systems are most often used for the band with 24-48 inputs, we often have to get creative in providing a 16 channel mix for the band.
Here is one way to condense your channels creatively, with an input, how you could feed that input to the mixer and a brief description of why and how:
- Kick (Direct Out)
Simply enough, the kick helps maintain the drive and rhythm of the music and is critical to have separate.
- Snare (Direct Out)
See Kick explanation
- Hi Hat (Direct Out)
See Kick explanation. One caveat here, if you don't mic your hi hat, or you need one more available channel, go ahead and mix the hi hat into the drum subgroup.
- Drums (Aux mix consisting of a blend of Toms, Overheads and possibly hi hat)
You don't really need each tom and overhead mic individually, but with your headphones or in-ears, create a good, even blend of these mics in an Aux mix and send as a sub mix.
- Bass (Direct Out)
- Lead Electric Guitar (Direct Out)
The lead guitar is a key piece of the music and needs its own channel
- Rhythm Electric Guitar (Direct Out)
The rhythm guitar too is a key piece of the music and needs its own channel
- Acoustic Guitar (Direct Out)
Just like the electric guitars, this needs its own channel
- Keyboard Left (Direct Out)
- Keyboard Right (Direct Out)
The keyboard is still a critical component of music these days, so it needs it's own channel, and if you're running it in stereo it's beneficial to run it to the Aviom in stereo. If you need the extra channel for other things, you can simply direct out the left side or better yet, send both the left and right sides into an Aux mix and send as a mix.
- Percussion (Aux mix consisting of all percussion mics blended together)
When I mic percussion, I'm doing me best to try and replicate what the player hears where he stands, as that is the sound he's trying to create. When giving your percussionist their mix, I want the same thing, so I create a blend of mics in an Aux mix to simulate that as much as possible.
- Orchestra (Aux Mix of Orchestra Mics)
Typically, and orchestra is to sound like one body of work, a blend of instruments producing one sound. In most scenarios, this same approach works well for the Aviom mix as well.
- Lead Vocal (Direct Out)
For direction, pitch, and reference, everyone needs the lead vocal.
- Background Vocals (Aux mix of all vocal mics)
The band doesn't typically need vocals individually, but having a blended mix in an Aux mix can be helpful and nice.
- Speaking Mics (Aux mix of all speaking mics)
Often churches have the headset or lapel the pastor preaches on, a spare mic, a mic for announcements, etc. Everyone needs to be able to hear these mics, but in order to condense channels, put all of these mics into an Aux mix and send as one.
- Ambient Mics (Aux mix consisting of all ambient mics)
Ambient mics help the musicians to feel connected to the room and not feel isolated, so having 2-4 ambient mics around the room, and possibly one or two on stage is helpful to them and blending them into a single channel gives them a connection without chewing up too many channels.
Ultimately it's about what is right for your band, but you can see how with some creative sub-mixing your personal monitor mixers can take 24-48 channels and equip you band with 16 channels to mix with, setting them up for success. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong set up, it's simply a matter of finding creative ways to get musicians (and singers) the audio they need to hear in order to be successful.
Church Relations Director
Duke has over 14 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. Duke travels around the country for CCI Solutions and is available to help your ministry. Join Duke on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ccisolutions.