3 Tips for Improving your In Ear Mix
A guest post by, Dan Aiello, Music Director of Clovis Hills Community Church
As a worship musician, few things are more important than being able to hear yourself clearly. Whether you’ve been playing for years or you’re just getting started, your monitor mix helps build confidence, keep you in step with your team, and enables you to focus on what matters: the music. As an audio engineer turned worship leader, I have seen both sides of the equation. When our team switched from floor wedges to in-ear monitors roughly five years ago, it opened up a whole new world of options and creativity. We were able to integrate backing tracks, live music directors, click, and much more into our weekend experience which would not have been possible before.
While switching to in-ear monitors proved to be a significant benefit, it was not without its challenges. There was a steep learning curve and adjustment period for many of our musicians - myself included. The biggest change was redefining my perception of what a monitor mix should sound like. If you’ve switched from floor wedges to in-ear monitors, you have probably learned like I did that you cannot approach them the same way. While everybody has their own unique preferences and needs, here are three tips that I have discovered that have consistently delivered solid results:
IEM CHOICE MATTERS.
Early on in our switch to in-ear monitoring, many members of our team complained about how unnatural things sounded to them, and how hard it became to make distinctions between instruments. When I analyzed their concerns, I noticed one thing in common with almost everyone - they were using garbage headphones. Worse, many of them were using their iPhone headsets! Consumer-grade headphones are not designed off the shelf for these sorts of SPL levels and for monitoring accuracy. As more team members switched to professional in-ear monitors or custom IEMs, their experience with the system dramatically improved. Currently, I am waiting for a set of custom in-ear monitors, but my go-to set is a pair of Ultimate Ears UE900s. They have been a perfect balance of quality and cost. Do yourself a favor and stop expecting pro results from a $30 set of headphones.
Mix for CLARITY over VOLUME.
Back to the comment about wedges and in-ears being different. Often, when using a floor wedge in church for monitoring, you are competing with many different sources in less than ideal sound conditions. Everyone’s goal with wedges has always seemed to be “more of me.” To that effect, I have watched numerous sound engineers fall into the trap of just boosting signal levels until the mix is so overbearing that it ends up louder than the mains. With in-ears, this philosophy becomes problematic. When I am setting my in-ear mix and need my voice or piano to be louder, I first ask myself, “What can I turn DOWN?” By bringing down other sound sources, I am making room in my mix for other aspects to cut through better. Once my mix is clear, I find myself spending less time turning up the volume and more time listening at lower levels, which can save you from ear fatigue.
Work WITH your sound engineer.
The relationship between a band and their engineer is highly symbiotic - almost sacred in a way. The approach of barking orders to an engineer or complaining loudly about what sounds wrong rarely leads to results. Instead, be patient with them. Learn about EQs and how a mix is structured just as they spend time learning the music you’re playing. Experiment with them and find what works best for you and your team. A little teamwork goes a long way.
In-ear monitoring definitely takes time to get used to, but once you’ve made the switch you’ll wonder why it took you so long. With a little time and effort, your team will be better off and you can focus on what really matters - your message.