Introduced in the late Eighties, In-Ear Monitors (IEM's) are now better, more affordable and more popular than ever. Here's our look at why they've become a staple on stages worldwide, used by acts as varied as Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, and many others. Maybe it's time you joined in?
For musicians playing live, in order to get the most out of your performance, monitoring is essential. No music venue worth its name can do without good monitors.
It can be more difficult to perform well without the assistance of monitors - especially if playing loudly, because you won't be able to hear your band and/or yourself too well.
For singers especially, performing without monitors can be even more problematic - without being able to hear yourself properly, you might end up singing out of tune! In a nutshell: good monitoring helps artists to enhance their performance, whereas lacking of monitoring can be detrimental.
Why Should I Use In-Ear Monitors?
Just as monitors are a marked improvement on having no monitors at all, using in-ear monitors represents yet another step ahead, and is a great improvement on using the usual wedge monitors. It's particularly useful for singers and that's why, today, most professional musicians opt for IEM, from rock bands such as Kings Of Leon and Arctic Monkeys to pop acts such as Beyonce.
If you too are ready to take your band’s live sound to the next level, in-ear monitors are the way to go. After all, you don't need to be a pop star to reap the benefits of a better sound!
As a performer, you'll be taking a major step in the right direction by reducing or eliminating your stage monitors altogether. There are plenty of reasons to make the change: Loud wedge monitors create significant audio issues that are counter-productive to good sound; such problems include increased feedback, or sound spilling into the audience, making it difficult to control the house mix.
Other problems include creating phase issues with the house speakers, generating “cross talk” that enables one musician to hear another’s monitor mix, and increasing the chances of hearing fatigue.
Or even worse, just picture the scene: a singer wants to hear him or herself better onstage, because the band is too loud. They ask for more vocals on their monitor. However, due to everything already being so loud, their microphone will now create feedback, thus making the situation even worse! What do you do? Tell the band to play quieter, thus reducing the impact of the performance? Play along with the annoying mic feedback? Or just suck it up and carry on best you can - unable to hear yourself too well? None of those options seems satisfactory, do they?
However, using IEM eliminates those problems! The fact is - whether you're practicing or performing, it's impossible to sound your best if you can't hear what's going on around you. And for years, Shure Personal Monitor Systems and Sound Isolating earphones have given professional musicians an "edge over the wedge" (their pun, not ours!)
In-ear monitors have been around since the late 1980s, when Stevie Wonder became the first well-known act to use one.
It was designed by his sound engineer Chris Lindo in 1987, when Stevie had a full-blown, mobile, broadcast-standard FM radio station, Wonderland Radio. On stage, Wonder used a standard Walkman FM radio receiver tuned to Wonderland Radio, which broadcast his mix to him via a pair of earbuds.
Things have moved a long way since, and now IEM's are much more convenient and affordable, such as the Shure PSM200 or the Shure PSM300 Wireless Personal Monitor Systems. But still, some musicians may think that an IEM is another unnecessary expense, but that's not the best way to think about it. Having your own IEM should be seen as an investment, one that'll save you time and help you to have a consistent mix every time, when you play at different venues.
Steve Down, Bombay Bicycle Club's tour manager, explained some of the IEM advantages:
"One huge benefit of using IEMs is consistency from show to show. With wedges, you have to deal with the acoustics of the room a lot more, and difficult rooms can make it hard for musicians to pitch. The acoustics do still play a small part with IEMs, as the room sound will inevitably work its way into vocal mics, but it's much easier to deal with. You certainly don't have to worry about our old friend Mr Feedback, which can be a huge problem when dealing with quiet vocalists on stage."
Other advantages from switching from wedges to in-ear monitoring include:
1) Hearing Health: The fact that it can even help preserve your hearing, since IEM give performers control over their mix volume and the professional ear-buds used block outside noise.
2) Consistency: An in-ear mix remains consistent even when the performer moves around the stage. No wonder Mick Jagger can't do without IEMs!
3) Portability: This is a great advantage for touring artists, even - or, especially! - if you often play venues which do not have good monitors. With your own IEM, you'll get a great sound wherever you go, without having to resort to taking bulky wedge monitors with you!
This short video by Shure showcases some of the advantages of IEM, too:
It's no wonder that today, so many people are using in-ear monitors, which are still getting increasingly popular, and fast becoming another essential accessory for touring bands and artists, worldwide! Convinced yet?
By Ivan Silva