As I sit here, having just watched the "Lip Synced" Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and anticipating the tryptophan-induced food coma that will inevitably hit me in a couple of hours,
I started thinking about how the introduction of in-ear monitors has impacted the way we mix monitors.
Yes, I am a nerd, and I have ruined countless shows for my wife, because of my love of all things tech and lack of conversational filter, but I think about these things so in the spirit of a top-ten list (and not ruining yet another holiday show for my family), I came up with the top 10 things to consider if you are thinking of making the jump in to in Ear Monitors (IEMs).
1. Worship Style
What is your church's worship style? The needs of a traditional worship set are greatly different than that of a more contemporary service. If you regularly have a choir, special music or large worship bands, IEMs might not be for you. More physical area can be covered by traditional wedges or side-fill monitors. If your set is more contemporary, you might want to consider moving to IEMs or a hybrid of the two styles.
2. Stage Volume
Does your FOH engineer struggle with gain before feedback? Do the first few rows of your audience area suffer from "Monitor-Wash-itis"? Using an IEM system can go far to reduce your stage volume and will greatly help your house mix ... especially in the first few rows. I have been an audio engineer for over 25 years. In my opinion this is one of the most beneficial reasons to switch to an IEM system.
If your set is more contemporary, you might want to consider moving to IEMs or a hybrid of the two styles.
From the musician's perspective, one of the best reasons to use IEM's is the ability to use Click and Cue tracks with your worship team. Since the monitors are in the ears of the musicians and the audience cannot hear the mix, a click and cue track can be used to keep the band on the same musical page.
Your TD or FOH/Monitor audio tech can use the talkback mic during the service to feed information to the worship director (or point out flaws in his wardrobe). I often will patch the announce feature of our intercom system from the producer position into the console and route it to the in-ear mix. This enables the TD to communicate with the Worship Leader if he needs to stretch the set. I have also used them to cue the band for their stage entrance after the message.
5. On The Fly Volume Changes
Most IEM systems give the overall volume control to the musician allowing them to turn up/down the volume of their mix on a whim. Most wired and wireless systems have a volume control at the tip of their fingers. While some team members are more set-and-forget, some can wear out the volume knob any given weekend. To me, it doesn't matter the reason, just that it allows them to hear their mix at a volume they need in the moment, and allows the engineers to focus on the house mix.
6. Stage Decluttering
Even though the wedges provide a great place for your decorating committee to add greenery to your stage, removing them greatly reduces the clutter on your stage. This allows the spotlight to be on the guitar player's over compensating pedal board where it belongs. It also takes down the physical barrier that can be perceived by your audience members allowing them to engage more in worship with the team.
7. Green is the New Black
Does your church believe in going "green"? Switching to IEMs requires less power to run letting your worship team and crew be more energy focused. This should also leave more room in the breaker panel to install that Rocket Espresso machine in the "Green Room"
If anything speaks volumes about how the tech team operates, budgeting is one of them. Remembering that all positions need not be wireless, IEM systems can be less expensive than adding amplifiers cabling and monitors. This could allow you to have more onstage mixes, wireless receivers or sets of drivers for the same amount of money as adding just a few monitor wedges. Alternatively, you could afford to add those massaging lounge chairs to the FOH booth "A relaxed tech is a happy tech."
9. Personal Mixers
The introduction of personal mixing systems has really increased the capabilities of your monitor system. Personal mixers allow each member of your team to create and adjust their own mix on the fly. Your engineer may need to help set up the initial mix and do some training, but the simplistic nature of these mixers usually lends itself to a quick learning curve.
10. In-Ear Drivers.
There is a vast range of personal in-ear drivers (earbuds) in the marketplace. Some churches chose to purchase the drivers for the team to share while others require the musicians to purchase their own. The drivers can be custom molded to the musician's ears, or universal fit monitors can be purchased. They can range from under $50 to over $1,000 depending on the number and the quality of drivers. I personally like to keep a few universal fit "spares" on hand for emergencies or forgetful team members, as well as a packet of alcohol wipes just in case the team doesn't want to trade ear wax.
There you have it, a Thanksgiving Day top ten list for all your IEM needs.
Maybe you can find some Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals to start your system In the meantime, I think I can hear that pumpkin pie calling my name.
Jeff Snyder is an A/V Professional with 25 years experience in sound, lighting, rigging, power distribution, stage management, set/scenic design, convention services, facility management, video production and commercial broadcast engineering and production. He works as an audio contractor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind.