If you and your worship team use an in-ear monitor system, you have an amazing resource at your disposal. Knowing how to use these systems is key, as you seek to steward the financial investment that you have made in acquiring an in-ear system. While these systems are not a necessity for your worship ministry, they can be a helpful resource.
Using these systems provides 3 significant benefits:
1. A decrease in stage volume as compared to using floor wedges
2. Increased mix control and quality for individual musicians and front-of-house
3. Click tracks and instrument tracks can be used
1. Decrease in Stage Volume
Being able to control stage volume is important in the corporate gathering. Even if your church runs music loud, you will be able to have a more clear (and clean) mix from front-of-house, if there are not 6 stage wedges pumping out 6 loud mixes that compete with the main mix. We often think that drums and guitar amps are the only problematic elements that contribute to stage volume. While drums and amps can cause problems, wedges can also contribute greatly to stage volume.
If your church runs the PA on the quieter side, having stage wedges can sometimes be so loud that they are louder than your actual PA. When this happens, your congregation does not hear well, and your front of house tech is simply trying to manage levels instead of working to create a good mix. When things feel “too loud” to our congregants, it is often a result of one particular frequency being too loud in relation to the rest of the mix and not that the overall volume is too high. Having stage monitors that are loud contribute to this problem and prevent your front of house tech from creating a smooth sounding mix that is pleasant to the congregation.
In-ear monitors eliminate problematic stage volume, give the front-of-house engineer a cleaner starting point to mix for the room, and allow your musicians greater control of what they will hear in their mix which helps them play better.
2. Increased Mix Control and Quality for Individual Musicians
When there are different wedges on stage, they can compete with one another and musicians may struggle to hear clearly all that they need to hear. When musicians struggle to hear each other, they will struggle to play parts that are in time and complement each other. For example, keys and electric guitar are both melodic instruments that often live in the same frequency range. When keys and electric players are unable to hear each other, they may play parts that sound great individually but when played together sound cluttered and muddy, forcing your front of house tech to choose one or the other to have in the mix. If the parts are complimentary and the sounds of the instruments fit well together, both parts can be kept in the mix. Being able to hear these things in the monitors help musicians make good musical choices.
3. Click Tracks and Tracks Can Be Used
When you use wedges, you can’t use tracks and metronome (click). Or, it will be incredibly difficult. To use tracks, you need a click. When you use wedges, you can’t have the click playing through the wedges because the congregation will hear it. In-ears allow you to have a metronome for the musicians to hear which also means that you can be synced-up with tracks. If the band can grow in playing in time and playing together, you will greatly increase the quality of music at your church.
Once you have your in-ear system set up, how do you mix your ears? Do you just have your own instrument, lead vocals, and click? Do you mix your ears with everything in them to sound more like a recording? How loud should your instrument be compared to everything else? Below are a few guiding principles for getting a good starting in-ear mix.
A. Use Both In-Ear Monitors – you can cause hearing loss if you use one ear in and one ear out for long periods of time. Often times people will take one ear out to be able to hear the congregation or because their mix does not sound good. Learning to mix your ears well will remove some of the temptation to take an ear out and risk hurting your hearing. As an aside, adding crowd mics to your in-ear mix allows you to feel more connected to the congregation.
B. Pan – utilizing panning is key in creating a clear and pleasant in-ear mix. Panning allows you to position instruments in the stereo field (left and right). Doing this reduces clutter in your mix. Imagine trying to listen to a band where everyone was lined up in a single file line directly in front of you. It would be very hard to distinguish one instrument from another. When you don’t pan things in your ears, this is effectively what you are listening to.
C. Levels – Whether you are a lead vocalist or an instrumentalist, being able to hear everything on stage is key to creating something that is musically compelling. As a general rule, you should work to mix your in-ears to sound like a recording, but with your particular instrument or vocal a little bit louder, sitting on top of the mix. If you are a background vocalist, it is probably not as vital for you to hear every little thing musically since your task is blending with the lead vocalist. Your mix could be primarily acoustic, keys, click, and lead vocal.
Below is a starting point for how I mix my in-ears that may be a helpful reference as you work to build a good in-ear mix. (Note: I play electric guitar). Start by getting a good balanced drum mix, and then go down the list below, adding instruments/vocals one at a time. While there are many opinions and approaches, this should help get you a good, balanced, musically pleasant ear mix.
Kick – center pan
Snare – center pan
Hat – 75% L
Tom 1 – 30% L
Tom 2 – 75% R
Overhead L – 100% L
Overhead R – 100% R
Bass – center pan
Electric – 40% R
Acoustic – 40% L
Keys – 100% L and R
Tracks – 100 % L and R
Lead Vocal – center pan
BGV’s – 10% L and R
Click – center pan
Be sure to check out our episode of the Ask Shane B podcast where we talk more about using in-ears.