3 Ways to Maximize Your In-Ear Experience
By Richard Aronson
There's no doubt about it - in-ear monitors are here to stay. If you're like most musicians or singers who haven't tried in-ear monitoring yet, you are both interested and skeptical of this "new fangled way" of hearing the mix.
Of course, in-ear monitoring is not new. It has been around for quite some time, and it definitely seems to be catching on in churches all around the world and for some good reasons. By moving away from wedges and switching to earbuds you will be able to reduce stage volumes, improve your house sound, isolate individual mixes (no more wedge wars), vocalists will sing more in tune and musicians will play tighter. These are all tremendous benefits but in order to realize them you must do 3 key things to make in-ear monitors really work for you. I - Putting the Congregation in Your Ears
One of the biggest complaints that people have about in-ear monitors is that as soon as they put the earbuds in they feel disconnected from everything else. It's kind of like being transported to an island where the sound of a mysterious band is being pumped into your head and you get to play along, but all by yourself with nobody else around to enjoy the experience. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?
In order to feel connected when you're using earbuds you need to use ambient mics
to capture what's going on in the congregation. These mics should be small diaphragm condensers set-up in an X/Y pattern
near the center front of your stage. If you can't put them in the center of the stage then spread them out to the left and right of center stage. Try not to put them directly under the house speakers because this will pick up the house mix coming out of the speakers and put that sound in your ears - not good! IMPORTANT!!!
Only put the ambient mics into your ear monitors. You don't want to add the congregation to your house sound unless you are going for that "Wow, this sound system really sounds bad" sound. II - Two Ears are Better than One
Unless you are one of the few people who have a single ear on the top of their head, you are pretty much like everyone else: two ears, perfectly positioned on either side of your head, placed there by the Lord God, Creator of the Universe. This means that you hear like most of us - in stereo. If you live life in stereo it only goes to reason that you should set up your in-ear monitors in stereo as well.
Maybe you are thinking, "What's the big deal? I only use a single wedge to monitor with. Why should I do stereo in-ears?" When you are listening to a wedge you are not listening to it in a vacuum. It is not the only sound you are hearing. Your stereo ears are picking up all of the other sounds around you where they are then converted into a very natural soundscape within your mind. When you put earbuds into your ears you instantly eliminate that natural soundscape. What you're left with is the equivalent of that single mono wedge that you were listening to, only now it has no definition. The sound is sterile and mundane. By putting together a stereo mix you will be able to recreate that natural soundscape, adding the reality of stereo life to your in-ear experience.
Since most of your instruments and mics are not in stereo, you can create a stereo field for your monitor mix by panning each instrument left or right more or less to approximate how the band members are set up on the stage. The best way to do this is with a dedicated monitor mixer and use the pan controls on each channel. If you are using your main console to create the monitor mix, you will need to use two aux sends per channel; one for the left and one for the right. Adjust the aux levels to get the right amount of left vs. right to create the sense of space between the singers and instruments. Remember you will need to set up the sound field from the perspective of the worship team standing on the platform facing out; right means their right and left their left.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of doing in-ears in stereo is that not only will you hear yourself better but you will hear the other musicians and singers better too. Singers will harmonize better and musicians will play off of each other better. III - Keeping Your Ears from Falling Off
We have all seen the popular music player ads showing a person holding a music device in one hand with earphones hanging down in front of them from their head - all while they are dancing to their own personal groove. It's all beautiful until they move their hand (the one with the music player in it) just a little too far causing the earphones to pop out of their head right at the best part of the song.
Getting your earbuds to fit properly is vital if you want to enjoy your in-ear experience. The first step to putting in your earphones correctly is to put them on from behind your head, letting the cables hang down your back, not your front. You should always drape the cable over the top of and behind your ear.
Next you need to determine what kind of sleeves you are using: foam, rubber, triple flange or custom mold. Foam sleeves are the most common and take the longest to insert properly. You need to squish (that's a technical term) the foam in order to put it in. Once the earphone is in place you need to hold it there until the foam has expanded otherwise it will easily fall out. Rubber sleeves are nice because they allow for quick insertion and removal of the earphone plus they can be washed and are reusable. Foam inserts are not washable. A third type of insert is the triple flange or "Christmas tree" insert. They are similar to rubber inserts except that they fit a little differently in your ear, which some people like better. Finally, there is the custom mold insert which is designed to fit perfectly in your ear because it has been molded for your ear. You will need to test the various kinds of sleeves to see which one works best for you and make sure you know how to use your inserts properly in order to keep your earphones in. Don't Close Your Ears
Using In-Ear monitors can positively add to your worship experience as long as you take the time to learn how to properly use them. If you really want to love the experience you will use a stereo pair of ambient mics to capture the congregation, you will create an in-ear stereo mix and you will take the time to learn how to properly insert your earbuds. You don't have to do these things to use in-ear monitors, just like you don't have to use Novocain when the dentist gives you a root canal. It's your choice. Choose wisely.