Techniques on Mixing With In-ear Monitors

(Last Updated On: October 28, 2020)
Band monitor their personal in-ear mixes.

If you’ve ever performed on stage with your band, you would understand how difficult it is to listen to your fellow bandmate and hear yourself. The reason is that there is a cacophony of sounds and noises on stage. The loudspeakers and loud wedge monitors and the crowd can drown out the feed from the wedge monitors. 

Loud wedge monitors, of course, are counterproductive if you are desirous of producing good sound as a band. Why? Because their use is fraught with many audio issues that include sound spilling onto the audience, feedback from the monitors, difficulty controlling the house mix, hearing fatigue, and many other problems.

Switching to In-ear mixes can do away with many of these problems. Plus, you can better preserve the keenness of your ears with the use of In-ear mixes. The in-ear monitor system, of course, lets performers gain control over their in-ear mixes. Besides, in-ear mixes allow performers to move around the stage while maintaining a consistent ear mix.

Techniques You Can Use To Mix Your In-ear Monitors 

The first significant effect of the shift to an in-ear monitor system is the remarkable reduction in stage volume. With less noise on stage, you can make the house mix sound better. Yet, you still need to get a good mix feed to perform the best way possible. With in-ear monitors, you can achieve the following:

1) Mixing the Full Mix and The Individual Mix

As an artist, you sometimes want to have a full mix when performing. You want to get this full mix feed to your monitor to get the feel of what is happening on the stage. Yet, if you perform in a cramped setting, you will prefer to have a simple mix feed on your monitor. 

Sometimes you will be contented with just hearing the vocals and another instrument like the guitar and the kick drum. More often, you will have enough bleed from the prominent vocal mics, which may prevent you from hearing everything else. Nevertheless, with the use of in-ear monitors, you can customize what you hear on your IEMs. 

IEMs come with two parts: transmitter and receiver, and each pack comes with its settings. Moreover, these settings enable a user to have his settings customized. So, the drummer and bassist can turn their volume up to jive with each other entirely. The singers can also turn their volumes up in their IEMs to hear each other while minimizing the other instruments.  

If you’re the one who acts as the monitor engineer in a show, it will help to communicate with each artist and ask them what type of mix they want. If you are mixing in stereo, you should bear in mind that what they wish will more often be contrary to your vantage point. If the guitarist, for example, asks you to pan his guitar to the right side, you should pan it on the left side because they are facing you, and you are facing them. 

As the monitor engineer, you can start mixing the kick drum, bass guitar, and overheads. Once you’ve set the foundation, you can then add the vocals. It will help to make the artists feel comfortable with your mix by letting them hear the rhythm section and the vocals. 

As a caveat, each artist wants to be on top of the mix. But be sure that you don’t muffle the necessary signals just to comply with their requests. On my part, I always consult each artist to know if he/she is comfortable having the snare or toms in his mix.

2) Be Mindful of Hearing Conservation

Although the main reason you would shift to IEMs is that you want to give artists quality monitoring. Yet, there is another reason why artists shift to IEMs, and this reason is hearing conservation. I remember when IEMs were not yet the norms; I used to play on stage with the huge wedge monitors in front of me. The noise level on the stage was indeed high.

Nevertheless, you may think that IEMs might have reduced the level of the SPL on the stage. Yet, if you don’t use the IEMs properly, they may be worse than wedge monitors. Thus, you should ensure that you execute well the in-ear monitor mixes. 

If your band or group is shifting to IEMs, you should look for models that come with a brick wall limiter to ensure that any transients or unexpected feedback do not enter the IEMs.  

3) Being Mindful of the Sounds of Silence

The first-time artists plug their IEMs onto their ears while performing; they will feel a bit weird. The reason is that they will not hear the audience and the usual bantering and chit-chats between bandmates. This feeling is a bit eerie at first. Yet, you can remedy this situation by positioning a mic near the stage edge. Let this mic point toward the audience. Then let the sound—picked up by this mic—to bleed into your mixes. 

You can also utilize an omnidirectional mic. Position it on the drum riser’s edge. Then, let the picked-up signals bleed into the individual IEM mixes. One caveat, however, is that the bleed may cause phase cancellation and even delay. Musicians may notice this delay.

4) Choosing Between Mono and Stereo Mixing

The choice between mono and stereo mixing depends on your preference and the call of the situation. Yet, I won’t hesitate to advise you to mix in stereo, for it provides apparent advantages over mono mixing. First, it gives a greater level of realism to your mix. Besides, it gives more excellent options for individual mixes. 

On the other hand, you should not discount mono entirely, for mono mixing also comes with its advantages. In some situations, it is best to go mono with your mix. For example, if you are using a lower-end system, you will get stronger signals if you opt for mono mixing. Mono mixing is useful if you don’t have clear frequencies from which to choose. Moreover, mono is simplistic. In the absence of stereo aux send, then you should opt for mono.

5) Adding a Crowd Microphone to Add Ambience

Artists who are not used to wearing IEMs may find themselves isolated because they don’t hear the ambient noise. IEMs are designed to be such excellent noise-reducing equipment. So, artists find themselves detached and separated from their audience and bandmates. 

As mentioned above, you can remedy this issue by merely positioning a crowd microphone on each corner of the stage to give you a stereo-wide pickup of the ambient noise. You can also use a shotgun microphone in front of the lead vocals. This mic’s position is best for capturing the ambient noise and sound as if it is happening right in front of the artists.

Caveats When Mixing The IEMs

Besides knowing the techniques for mixing IEMs, mixing IEMs may come with some issues and caveats. It will also help to know the following caveats when mixing IEMs to ensure good mixes for your group:  

  1. Refrain from adding too much bass, which the IEMs may fail to handle, causing your feed to sound bad. 
  2. Avoid getting all the drums into your mixes. Be contented with the minimum requirements when mixing drums for IEMs. Your drum mixes should include overhead, base, and a bit of kick out and snare top. 
  3. Don’t be too much with your feed on each IEMs. Be cognizant of the artists’ needs and what they want, but don’t overstuff your mixes. 
  4. It will help not to overrun the wireless with too much output. Ensure that you keep enough headroom for the wireless.

Conclusion

The person who is usually in-charge of IEM mixing is the monitor engineer. He mixes the overall sound the musicians hear on stage during their performance. He provides each musician with an individual mix in case they are using an ear monitor system. He tailors each mix for each musician, providing them with the desired level of vocals and instruments. 

Now, in the absence of the monitor engineer, you will need someone to handle your show’s mixes or performance. The aforementioned tips can come in handy for that person assigned to do the right mixes for each musician and artist. Besides, he can avoid the usual pitfalls that go along with IEM mixes.

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