Getting Started with In Ear Monitors
The Birth of IEMs
In Ear Monitors (IEMs) were first introduced in 1995 to fix the issue of musicians not being able to hear on stage. Before this point everyone was using the standard monitor floor wedge but there were several issues associated with floor wedges that lead to the invention of IEM systems. I want to take you through the downsides of floor wedge systems and show you how IEMs are a great solution to fix these issues. Finally, I want to give you some example IEM systems for your church to consider to show you just how cost effective IEMs can be for your church.
The Problems with Floor Wedges
In 1965 The Beatles were one of the hottest bands around, but they found it hard to create music live because they could rarely ever hear themselves over the sound of screaming crowds. I know that your church’s congregation is probably not as large, nor as loud, as thousands of screaming fangirls at a Beatles concert but the issue still remains: musicians have a hard time hearing themselves through floor wedges. There are many reasons for this issue that IEMs seek to resolve.
Problem #1: Distance from Sound Source
The first issue with floor wedges is that you have an incredible distance from the sound source. If you’re 5ft tall and the floor wedge is 3 feet away from you, then your ears are approx. 6ft away from the sound source. This means that all sound has to travel 6ft before it can reach your ear, and during that time the sound can pick up interference from other sound sources. Your PA, while pointed in the opposite direction, is still audible from the stage platform. This will interfere with the sound of your monitoring system causing phase cancellations, and less intelligibility. Ultimately this means you’ll have to run the monitors hotter so that you can not only hear, but make sense of what you are hearing.
Problem #2: Increased Chances of Feedback
The second issue with floor wedges is their potential for feedback. Since you are outputting high volume sounds from your floor wedge there is a great chance that your microphones will pick up this sound, increasing the possibility of feedback. Even if your sound doesn’t feedback you can still increase the bleed coming from different instruments making it harder to get good mixes. The loud stage volume is the biggest downside to floor wedges and is negated by the use of IEMs.
Problem #3: Increased Stage Volume
Problem #2 & #3 are closely related but slightly different. The increased stage volume from floor wedges doesn’t just affect feedback, it also affects the quality of the mix your audience hears. The sound waves from your floor wedges usually reflect off of the back wall which ends up creating phase cancellations with your Front of House (FOH) mix and decreasing the overall quality for your audience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mixing and thinking “This whole mix sounds like it is in a trashcan. I can’t understand what anyone is saying, and there is no clarity in the mix.” In these times I usually check my monitor levels and I notice that when the monitors get quieter, the mix sounds better. Essentially your monitor system is an entirely different PA system that is pointed in the wrong direction.
The increased stage volume can also be damaging to your musicians hearing, especially drummers. The entire purpose of IEMs being created was to allow musicians to safely play on stage while still being able to hear.
How IEMs Can Help
In an IEM system the monitoring headphones are your sound source, and they are directly inserted into your ear, this eliminates problems associated with being far from the sound source. Since IEMs don’t produce sounds loud enough to be picked up by microphones the potential for feedback is greatly reduced, this also negates the effects of the increased stage volume. Finally, since IEMs are sound isolated they protect the listener’s hearing from being damaged by outside stage noice. Yes, a musician can still damage his or her hearing by turning their IEMs up to loud, but the volume is directly controlled by the musician.
Are In Ears Expensive?
Many churches fear the use of IEMs because of the associated price tag. However, IEMs have became much more affordable in the past 10-15 years. Honestly, you can implement an IEM system for your church that is in the same price point as 2 floor wedges. Josh Sloan, co-founder of Worship Innovation, created a functional IEM solution for his church that was only around $300. This solution greatly helped improve the quality of Josh’s band, and it fixed many issues Josh was having with his churches sound. IEMs can get pricey, don’t get me wrong, but IEM systems can be designed with churches budgets and expectations in mind so that they can get something that works for them and doesn’t break the bank.
A Simple & Cheap In Ear Setup
Below is an example of perhaps the cheapest introduction to IEMs a church can get. This uses lesser quality gear, but allows for a fully functional IEM system that delivers exceptional audio quality for the price. The estimate below assumes that you’re wanting to use all 8 channels of your headphone amp, and it also assumes that the church purchases 8 pairs of In Ear Monitors. However, the IEMs we selected are cheap enough that your team members could perhaps afford to pay for those, which would save the church around $150.
8 Channel XLR to 1/4” Audio Snake - $39.99
1/4” to 1/8” Extension Cable x 8 -$95.92
IEMs x 8 - $151.92
Grand Total: $436.83
IEMs are a great invention and they fix a large amount of issues associated with live sound. The cost to get an IEM system at your church is not as expensive as many might think. Yes, you can drop thousands on a great IEM system for your church, but for less than $500 your church can have an IEM system for 8 people that delivers great quality audio directly to your musicians ears eliminating increased stage noise, feedback potential, and protecting your musicians hearing. If you want to hear more about IEMs check the podcast episode Josh and I did about In Ear Monitoring Solutions. Thanks so much for reading.