If you serve on a worship team in the local church, chances are that you’ve either already switched your team over to In Ear Monitor’s (IEM’s) or you’re considering doing it in the future. IEM’s give your team the advantage of a more controllable house mix with lower stage volume. Of course the most desirable perk to the worship team is that each musician and singer gets their own personal monitor mix.
There is a learning curve to using IEM’s that most users never get proper training on. Without any training, learning to use them becomes a frustrating experience. They can be an incredible tool for your team when they’re used properly. A good in ear mix can also aid to perform better while playing live with a band. However when they’re used improperly, they can cause confusion and even hearing damage.
How do I know my ear mix is a good mix? What should it include?
First and foremost you need to be able to hear yourself. If you can’t hear yourself, you have no idea whether you’re singing/playing well at all. At the same time, you want to make sure you do not have too much of yourself in your ears. This will completely drown out other instruments & the click track, making it more difficult to play.
The click track is equally as important as hearing yourself because it keeps you in time with everyone else. You should always be able to hear the click. It’s annoying at first, but it becomes background noise in no time. You want your click to be loud enough that if you start to get off time, you can pay attention to it and lock back in with the rest of the band. Just like mixing yourself, don’t make the click too loud. When the click is too loud, it causes ear fatigue quickly and negatively effects your ability to stay in time.
Next, you need to identify what other things you need to hear in order to perform your best. For singers that should include an instrument so that you can hear what key you’re singing in. More specifically, you should pick an instrument (or two) that gives you a good sense of where you are through the entire song. Usually keys and lead electric or acoustic are good to work from. You should also mix in enough of all the other singers that you know you’re not clashing with the other vocal parts.
A musician’s needs will be a bit different from a singers. Just like singers, you need to clearly be able to hear yourself and the click. But again, not too much of either. Its very important to have enough drums in your ears to enable you to stay in the groove with the drummer. At minimal, you should be able to hear kick & snare. If you’re struggling to hear click at any point in a song, your mix needs to be adjusted to change that. As far as singers are concerned, at the very least, hearing your lead vocalist’s is a must. This helps you to know what direction the leader is going and anticipate what’s coming up.
Finally, if your church uses and MD, it is important to be able to hear that person at all times. They are in charge of last minute calls and keeping the band on track. If a singer gets off click, the band needs to know where to go. Being able to hear the MD makes this a much easier task.
From there, its a matter of personal preference. Do some experimenting during rehearsal to figure out what helps you, and what doesn’t. Mix a moderate amount of those things into your ears, and don’t be afraid to have different mix than other band members. What works for you, might not work for the rest of the team.
Something that is important to take note of for teams that do one by one mixing is that instrument volumes can change in your ears depending on how many instruments/singers are active. Here’s scenario expressing what I mean. – Only the lead vocalist is singing and you turn them up to a volume that you can hear clearly but not very loud. When the entire band starts playing a big bridge of a song, and all the singers are singing their parts, there’s a good chance that the lead vocalist will get lost in your mix. Pay attention to this during rehearsal and make adjustments as needed.
Getting better at mixing your own ears comes with time. You need to pay close attention to how your in ears react to different band dynamics and compensate for that. Always approach each IEM mixing experience with an open mind. A positive attitude about mixing your ears will help you master the skill much faster.
Remember, IEM’s are a tool to aid us, not obstruct our ability to play music. If you feel hindered by them, give it more time. There is a reason the entire music industry has already switched to this technology. When you figure out what works for you, it will be a much more enjoyable experience than sharing stage wedges with the rest of your band.
Be patient. Be persistent. Be positive! You’ll love them in no time.