For many years, artist and church bands used floor monitors to reference themselves during a service or show. Over the last 15 years, though, in-ear monitoring systems have become the new standard in on-stage monitoring.
When they first became available, the earliest in-ear systems carried a hefty price tag that placed them well out of reach for most churches. In the last several years, though, the prices have decreased alongside an increasing array of features of various in-ear systems. Because of this, I find that more and more churches are looking to make the switch from using traditional floor monitors to an in-ear monitor solution.
As church staff, we plan for upgrades and budget accordingly.
In-ear or personal monitor systems can offer many benefits over floor monitors.
Lower stage volume that will lead to better clarity in your house mix.
No more feedback from floor monitors.
An artist can customize their mix and hear themselves more clearly.
Cleaner looking stage.
No matter your reasoning for making the switch, there are a few things to consider, though, when making the decision.
Personal Mixers vs. Dedicated Monitor Console
Personal mixers allow each artist to control their mix. Depending on the system, they can control everything from level, pan, EQ, effects, and room ambiance of their mix. Being able to craft a personal mix, each musician can have a mix that makes them most comfortable onstage, which makes for better performance.
Personal mixers can be very convenient, but they aren’t without their flaws. Most personal mix systems are often limited to 16 to 24 channels; some newer systems offer a slightly higher channel count. If you want to route more channels to the system, then you will have to come up with routing solutions to combine channels to stay within the system's limitations.
Personal mixers often require you to be tethered to the mixer with a headphone cable. If you want to utilize wireless in-ear monitors, personal mixers usually need custom cabling solutions or extra pieces of gear to make this happen.
A dedicated monitor console is another solution to consider when making the switch to in-ear monitors. This takes control of the in-ear mix from the artists, and gives the control to a dedicated monitor engineer. This frees your artists to focus on the congregation they are leading and the music they are trying to create. A monitor engineer can then assist the artist in creating a great mix that will be helpful in monitoring themselves, along with the band.
A monitor console allows for more flexibility when it comes to ear in-ear mix. Because you can use all of your audio system's inputs, as wells as, the ability to have equalization and dynamics processing to each input and mix output, the artist’s mix can be crafted in much greater detail. Many digital consoles allow you to route the onboard effects back to the artist's mix to help them not feel so isolated from the environment around them. If the built-in effects aren't enough, you can add outboard processing to have dedicated effects for each mix output.
Wireless or Wired
Wireless in-ear monitors give artists the freedom of not being confined to a particular area on stage. With a wireless system, artists are acoustically isolated from the system, so they are free to roam anywhere within range.
There are a few downsides to a wireless system. The cost of the system can be higher depending on the application. Also, the operating and maintenance cost tend to be higher as well, because of battery consumption and artist tend to damage the receivers. Another thing to consider is interference caused by other wireless devices in your facility or area. If you use wireless microphones, then this could reduce the number of wireless in-ear mixes you can use. You will want to do an "RF sweep" to determine what frequencies are available to use.
Wired in-ear mixes are simply easier to setup. But the downside is well, the wires. This may not be a problem if you have a smaller stage or the artist is a short distance from the mixer. Often drummer and keyboard players will use wired mixes, as they tend to stationary. Wired systems have a lower maintenance cost, usually because the systems are much simpler and have less equipment to maintain.
Best of Both Worlds
With new digital mixers, it's easy to create hybrid in-ear systems. Hybrid systems consist of using personal mixers for some of the artists while using wireless mixing from a front of house consoles. In this configuration, personal mixers are used for the backline, i.e., drummers, bass, guitar, and keyboard players, while wireless systems are used for the frontline artist. This allows for the band that is stationary to dial in their mixes quickly, and offers the frontline artists the freedom to move around if necessary.
Consider Your Team
No matter what option you decide, you should always consider what is best for your team. If your team is made up of mostly volunteers, then how will such an upgrade affect them? How long will it take to get them up to speed with the new gear, if you choose to go ahead? Can you maintain the system you are planning on integrating? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking when considering an upgrade.
As church staff, we plan for upgrades and budget accordingly. But we sometimes forget to count the cost for our teams. Learning new equipment can create new burdens for your volunteers. It takes time for volunteers to learn how to operate the new equipment, in addition to the time they already give. So before you upgrade, cast vision for the new systems, get their feedback, and include your team members in the process. This will add value to them, and help create ownership with the new system.
From Personal Experience
At Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind., we recently went through this process. As we were considering upgrading our audio consoles, we investigated what we should do with regards to our in-ear system. We had been using a separate monitor console, and engineer for years, but the upgrade allowed us to consider if this was the best option for us. After researching various personal mix systems and taking into account our processes, we decided that a dedicated monitor console was still the best choice for this campus. On the other hand, our multi-site campus recently transitioned from a dedicated monitor console to a hybrid of personal mixers, along with wireless in-ears mixed from the FOH position.
In other words, there are many different options out there. So, do your research, ask others what they are doing, and then decide what works best for your church.