Stephen Salamunovich began his professional life as a musician performing and recording as a vocal soloist with such groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Opera Company, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the soundtrack of “The Godfather” and the Disney recording of “It’s a Small World.”
As a studio drummer, keyboardist and vocalist he has worked and recorded with numerous artists including contemporary jazz artists Gerald Albright, David Benoit, Peter White, renowned bluesman Doug MacLeod, Taylor Mesple’, “The Voice” sensation, Mycle Wastman
I’ve been a musician since I was six years old and a professional drummer for the last 45 years. I’d certainly played with headphones and am no stranger to the benefits of an isolated monitor source. But something happened that I hadn’t expected when I finally chose to go with a custom-molded, in-ear-monitor source. Something that had I known would happen, I would have done it much sooner. So for those of you who are on the fence about IEM’s like I was, this one’s for you! Let me give just a bit of background as a pre-amble.
When practicing drums, I used to just play in the room without any miking or monitoring. When practicing with recorded music, I put the sound through some PA speakers and just played along. Ear protection was a double-edge sword. If I used the custom-molded ear plugs I had, the dynamics of the sounds all got muted with the volume. I couldn’t really hear the full dynamic range of the music and worse, what I was producing at the drums sounded like someone playing on the other side of a room next door! Kind of like a vocalist singing into a mic when they can’t hear their own voice monitored back at them. If you’ve ever heard it, you know that the pitch, dynamics and feel is SIGNIFICANTLY compromised in even the most gifted singer.
Or imagine being blind and having to try reading braille while wearing mittens! So at the expense of the protection of my ears, I chose to prioritize the fullest sound of the drums coming back at me so I could better make music. The vast majority of my recording history has been spent in professional studios where headphones were readily available and I used them without reservation. But when I finally decided to “bite the bullet” and join the digital age, I put in a home studio so I could play on files that clients and friends wanted to send me. Instead of headphones, I decided that I would finally indulge my interest in custom-molded, IEM’s.
My research with friends and on the internet led me to Ultimate Ears as the pre-eminent company to choose. I went to my local dealer and tried the various monitor/driver combinations before settling on the Reference Remastered model owing to what I thought was the clearest sound of the hi-hat I noticed since my high-end hearing had become diminished from the years of playing without protection. After getting everything together and starting to use the system, I LOVED the clearer sound and the fact that I could turn down the music AND the drums and still hear everything beautifully. I quickly realized that there was absolutely no reason to ever practice without going through mic/mixer system and listening to EVERYTHING through my IEM’s every time. And why wouldn’t I! I get to practice with a fully-EQ’d, compressed drum set that sounds beautiful and now my drums heard through the air, sound garish and harsh to me! And not because they’re not good drums. I’m fortunate to have state of the art drums tuned really well. And now they’re beautifully mixed and conditioned, so I’m pretty spoiled!
But besides being able to play with the sound of the drums coming into my ears at a volume that protects them, I noticed another incredibly-beneficial by-product of this that I’d not ever heard spoken about before.
I can hear the dynamics of my playing at a level I had NEVER gotten with headphones.
The mics are obviously right down at the level of the drum heads. But when I played with headphones, the volume of the drums through the air coming up at me, couldn’t help but leak into the phones no matter what model I used because my ear canals were still open underneath the phones. So I would usually turn my drums down in the phones to compensate for the lack of isolation from the drums coming at me through the air. With the Ultimate Ears IEM’s, I’m able to fully close off my ear canal to a point that cuts of far more of the drum sound coming at me through the air, just like with my custom-molded ear plugs. Only now, I have mixed, EQ’d, clear drums and music, coming in the monitors at the volume level I actually choose instead of what I was stuck with using headphones. But besides the obvious ability to control the volume and the leakage, I’m hearing the dynamics of my playing at a level I didn’t even know was possible. It has created an advancement in my feel and musicianship that has been as rapid as when I first started playing 45 years ago.The individualized sound qualities of hitting the snare drum in different places on the head and at different angles, has become incredibly acute to me. So my ability to choose where to play things on the head, the velocity and angles of my strokes and the general sound I’m creating, has increased incredibly. I can’t endorse the use of custom-molded, IEM’s strongly enough. And I have found Aaron and the folks at UE Pro to be among the most incredibly-informed, and accommodating professionals with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to have worked in any field! They’ve raised the bar of both technical advancement and customer service to an unprecedented level in this industry! It’s no wonder they’re the inventors of custom-molded in-ear-monitors and still the leading innovators in the field. Anyway, I hope this is helpful for anyone still on the fence about whether to let the earphones and wedges go and choose some custom-molded, in-ear-monitors. And choosing Ultimate Ears to get them, is a no-brainer!.