Gigging Week: Are In Ear Monitors the Future for Gigging Musicians?

Published on 05 August 2019

Let's set the scene. You turn up for soundcheck in prep for the gig tonight, there are four small floor monitors that have to fill the sound on stage. You need to hear these over the Incredible Hulk on drums, plus Bill and Ted on guitars who are dying to blast their Marshalls. You can't hear your vocals so you ask the sound engineer to turn up your mic in your monitor, they bump you up a touch and utter the dreaded phrase "that's as loud as it goes dude." 
Jump forward to the gig, Hulk's nerves have kicked in and he's now playing twice as loud and as a result,  Bill and Ted have asked for more guitars in their monitors and the stage is filling with feedback. You still can't hear your vocals. Nightmare!
Surely there's a better approach to sound on stage?
Ladies and Gents, we introduce to you...In Ear Monitors. IEM's for short, boast many benefits over regular stage monitors.
Shure PSM300 In Ears
In Ear Monitors
First off, they work in a similar way to regular earbuds. Blocking out ambient noise like drums and guitars so you can have exactly what you want in the mix and actually hear it. This could be an even balance of the overall band, or just drums, one guitar and your voice and/or instrument. It's really your choice! 
One benefit of IEM's sound isolation is that you don't need to blast them to properly hear yourself. It's fairly common, not just for singers, but for many musicians to have pitching problems when wearing earplugs. Ditching earplugs for the sake of the performance is a gamble you take with your own ears. 
So IEM's not only allow you to hear yourself better than before, they're much kinder to your ears. 
The second benefit to In-Ears is that they will work anywhere on stage. 
One glaring downside to floor monitors is that you can only really hear what's coming out if you're standing directly in front of the speaker. Take a step to the side and it blends into the wash of noise that surrounds you.
With IEM's you get the exact same mix no matter where you stand, both on and off the stage. 
The third benefit to using In Ears is that they allow you to turn off the monitors on stage. This is especially apparent when each member is using In-Ears.
No monitor speakers on stage means a significantly reduced chance of feedback and a more controllable sound for your engineer to mix. This results in an enhanced listening experience for your audience. Essentially, you're going to sound better out front. 
You may have noticed in recent years that some singers who previously had vocal troubles have suddenly started to sound good again. Maybe they're pitching better, or aren't straining their voice trying to hear themselves like they once did?
IEM's play a big part in this, monitor speakers would seriously limit what could be done in terms of compression on a microphone, especially in rock band settings. Singers would essentially have to bark into a microphone at close proximity to really have a chance of hearing themselves over the rest of the band. 
Thanks to the use of In-Ears and speakers not being pointed directly at a microphone like they used to. Heavy compression and EQ can be applied to a vocal to really make it sound its best. Plus, it really gives singers the opportunity to play with technique and not have to compromise their tone just for the sake of being heard. 
Of course, it's not just singers who benefit from the use of IEMs. Have you met a musician that's not had one single gig where they've been unable to hear themselves?
It's safe to say we've all had performances ruined because of poor stage monitoring. 
IEM Wireless Systems
There are many companies making IEM systems, some budget models are available. However, when your ears are at stake, it's worth investing in a system that's not going to glitch and potentially send a damaging amount of volume directly into your ears. 
One of our favourite IEM brands is Shure. Not only do Shure have a reputation for making great equipment in general. They were also one of the first brands to really master the wireless audio. 
We're sure you've seen many singers use a Shure wireless microphone on stage. There's never any dropouts or interference and the exact same technology has been implemented into their monitor systems. 
We particularly recommend the Shure PSM300 system which features Mix Mode. This extremely useful feature allows you to send 2 signals to your receiver and blend between the two. So for example. This could be a general mix of the band on one and the lead vocal or click the another. 
Need a bit more vocal or click in your mix, no problem. You don't even need to ask the engineer to turn it up, you can set the mix directly from the receiver. 
Backing Tracks
Using backing tracks becomes even easier with IEM's. In most band situation only the drummer hears the click, it's their job to keep the rest of the band in time with the backing track. 
This becomes a chore if you have an intro to a song that doesn't have drums. Because the drummer then has to count the beat (usually on the hi-hat) so the backing track isn't out of sync when the full band comes in. 
What's great is when each member has a set of In-Ears. Everyone can get a bit of the click track in their mix so the drummer doesn't have to relentlessly keep counting the beat whenever they're not playing.
That can only be a good thing!
Tech Specs
So you're planning on buying a wireless monitor system, what do you need to know? 
While you could just rock up to the venue with your system and hope the engineer is willing to hook it up. It's definitely worth discussing your options before the gig. Either when the gig is booked, or on the run-up to the gig. It's best to approach the promotor or the in house engineer about wanting to use an IEM system. 
If you have your own sound engineer, you're best to make sure your monitors are listed in the tech spec given to the promoter. 
Not every venue will have a desk which will accommodate your In-Ears. However, In the majority of cases, your system will be plugged into the desk in place of your floor monitor send. 
It's clear that there are many befits to using in-ears and with more and more professional musicians using them, it looks like this is going to be the future of on stage sound. 
If you're looking to get your first set of in In-Ear Monitors, we do recommend checking out Shure systems. If you have any doubts or any questions, pay us a visit and we can fill you in on everything you need to know.