One of the most important things for a musician when they are on stage is the need to be able to hear themselves clearly, if they can’t, they are going to produce a sub-standard performance. There used to be only one way of doing this and that was through what is known as a floor wedge or floor monitor, this is simply a speaker that is placed in front of the musicians so that they can hear themselves. As you can imagine, these speakers would be quite bulky and take up a lot of space on stage, especially if there is a large amount of musicians on stage, all requiring monitors.
This issue has now been solved with the invention of in ear monitors or I.E.M’s. The clue is in the name as t how these work, just like a floor monitor but rather than having a massive speaker on stage, each performer has a set of in ear headphones in which they can hear themselves and whatever else they require, for example, a click track if the performer is a drummer.
The debate about which monitoring method is best has been going on for years and there are pros and cons to both forms of monitoring, let’s start with the pros and cons of floor monitors:
- Less expensive – A fully functioning in ear system can cost hundreds of pounds)
- No sound blocked ( having in ears can sometimes block out the noise of the crowd etc.
- Freedom of movement – if a performer isn’t on wireless I.E.M’s, they are attached to a cable.
- Shared mixes – If time is not on a bands side, the engineer can arrange to have various band members using one wedge, not ideal, but time efficient.
- More noise on stage – If you combine the front of house speakers, guitar amps and several monitors on stage, it sure is gonna get very loud, very quickly.
- Less space on stage – Again, combining the amps, instruments and people with more bulky monitors doesn’t create the most comfortable stage plan.
- more chance of feedback – Because of the amount of things blasting out at you and the audience.
- No chance of a custom mix – for some musicians, having a custom mix is essential, such as the drummer needing a click track at times, you can’t put a click through a floor monitor or the audience will hear it, not good.
As you can see, having a floor wedge has its advantages and disadvantages, now onto in ears. If you’re gigging week in week out like me, I would suggest investing in some in ear monitors, we’ll go through the pros and cons of these now:
- Hearing protection – In ear monitors are designed to block out as much noise as possible to protect the hearing of the wearer, with in ears, the harsh frequencies like that produced from the crash of drum cymbals are either blocked out completely or blocked to a certain extent so you can still hear them but just not as loudly.
- Custom mixes – With in ears, you can have a mix that is custom made for you, this take quite a lot of time during soundcheck but is well worth it. The quality of a mix can make or break a performance for a lot of musicians, if you can’t hear yourself or can hear too much of yourself, things could go horribly wrong. Thankfully with in ears, the sound levels can be adjusted without affecting anybody else in the band.
- You can hear more clearly – Because your monitor is literally in your ear, you can hear everything more precisely and be really locked into the rest of your band members, this helps your performance a great deal.
- They look cool – I know, probably not the reason anybody chooses in ears, but I must say, I like the fact that I’m wearing what the pros wear, it makes me feel cool, okay? Try not to judge me!
- Expensive – A good quality in ear system can burn a rather large hole in your wallet, we’re talking £500 + if you want the high end stuff. For your first set, I wouldn’t recommend going out and spending that much, get something quality but within your price range!
- If they break, you’re done – This doesn’t happen too often if you look after them, but if they do break and you don’t have a spare set, then your kinda stuck, musically and financially. Especially if they break on stage and you don’t have a wedge running too, which is not likely.
- Could cause hearing damage – If your sound guy isn’t responsible or experienced, they could send a massively hot feed to your ears, this could potentially damage your hearing if it keeps happening, before you switch to in ears, you have to be sure that the engineers your working with know how to handle their desks properly.
- They can’t always be used – I’ve had experiences of going to a venue, telling the sound guy that I run in ears, and having them freak and not know what to do with these foreign objects.. dude… just run an XLR cable from your desk to mine.. oh well.
These are my personal pros and cons, added to the extensive argument as to which way works best. Personally, once I switched to in ears, using a wedge was never the same, I just couldn’t do it, and I’d imagine its the same for many people that have made the switch. A fellow session musician friend of mine described using in ears as “hearing in HD” and I have to say, his right.
SIDE NOTE: I wrote a little review of my Moxpad X6 in ears, take a read!: https://garycunninghammusic.wordpress.com/category/reviews/page/2/