Mixing Your In Ear Monitors On Stage

Using your Custom In Ear Monitors on stage.

I use the Triple Driver Custom In Ear monitors from In Ear Central on stage for 1 two hour set per week. They Cost $249.99

I play second keys, electric guitar, run a click track, and also run EDM tracks from my laptop; we play mostly rock and electronic music.  We use the Aviom system with a digital Yamaha sound board.

Because there are so many different bands and soundmen at the venue all the channels in the Aviom are pre eq and dynamics. This means that any eq, compression, reverb, and other effects will not change what the musician hears through the avioms. This can be both good and bad.  It is good in the sense that you don’t have to worry about what the soundman does because it won’t affect your mix.  The bad is that you will be left with a mostly flat signal from all of your instruments and this will increase the overall volume of your mix but also will give you a much grittier sound.  For instance, most instruments are very dynamic in their db output.  A violin player may range from 30db to 60db(not literal) as a result if the violin player is playing very low you may not be able to hear and then as soon as they play loud they may be too loud.  This is where compression comes in and lowers the louder parts to match the softer or vice versa.

I can tell you first hand that having your in ears in the hands of a bad soundman messes up everything.  If you have the same band and soundman at your venue the in ear monitor system is most likely post eq and effects. That means you get to hear each instrument exactly the way the soundman has eq’d. You will have overall control for volume and usually one bass and treble control.

If you play with different soundmen you may wonder why the mix sounds so different.  It all has to do with eq’s and dynamics.  Perception of sound comes down to taste and with that ear size, shape, and depth. Therefore, no one hears everything exactly the same.   Due to bends in the ear certain frequencies will inherently arrive at the eardrum faster than others. This explains how there can be polarizing views of the same in ear monitor.

Our band consists of 1 lead singer, 3 backup singers, rhythm/lead electric, lead  electric(me), Keys 1, Keys 2(me), EDM tracks(me), Violin, Bass, and Drums.

In Ears Philosophy. I like to think of two main philosophies to mixing your in ear monitors on stage.  Some like to be “in the mix” so they can feel the big picture of the music they are playing or singing with.  Others only want to hear the instruments and vocals they depend on.  For instance, a background vocalist may not care what the bass player, drummer, electric, or violin is doing.  Really all the background vocalist needs to hear is the main instrument and the lead singer. But some singers have the need to feel immersed in the music as it helps them connect better emotionally to what they are singing.

Whatever your philosophy I have tips that will help you.

Also these are just guidelines.  Sound is 100% based on the hearer.  Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.  Therefore, all my suggestions should be tempered by what sound you like the best.

  1. Turn your main volume is at 75 percent.
  1. Pan. Panning refers to mixing a signal to the left or right side of the stereo spectrum. The stereo spectrum from left to right would be -100=left 0=center 100=right.   Stereo is very important to music.  Have you ever been listening to something and maybe only had one earbud in or it was a very cheap radio? Did you notice you couldn’t hear a certain part of a song like a guitar solo or intro?  Ever since stereo was invented it has been used in recordings. Stereo allows the engineer to have more sounds that stand out.  Whether you understand or not, take my word for it. If there was no such thing as stereo you would not be able to hear those intros and solos as clearly. You will need to pan almost everything in your in ear system.

(As I move on I will explain more on panning)

  1. Build Drums. How do you build a mix? Start with your voice? NO. Start with the lead vocalist? NO. Always start with the drums.  Drums are the foundation of every mix.

Turn every channel down to zero first.

If you only have one channel for the drums you will need to bring the volume up to a comfortable level.  NEVER start with a loud level especially with your first instrument.

Panning drums in my opinion has two main viewpoints. One from the drummers and the other from the crowd. So if you want to pan drums properly you would pan them from either the viewpoint of the drummer or the crowd. If you pan by the drummer your snare will be panned slightly left, the hihat will be panned more to the left of the snare, the kick drum will be center, the toms will be panned to the left from high tom to low tom, the crash will be near the center, the ride will be to the right between the mid and low tom.  This is called a stereo spread and it is very important to being able to hear everything clearly but also not overload your ears or amps or speakers. You may also have a room mic for the drums if there is a drum enclosure. The room mic should be placed with the same concepts of the others if it is in the left, ride side, or center.

If you have multiple channels for the drums it is best to keep the kick drum centered so do not pan left or right. The snare can be panned slightly to the left or the right about 30 percent. Follow the above paragraph for panning if you have more channels for the drums.

If you have a hat channel it is best to put it further than the snare from the kick drum in stereo. So if your kick drum is at zero, and the snare is at 30 percent left or -30 then the hihat would be at -45 or 45 percent left.  If you have more than these three like an overhead or room mike (for the drums) it is best to pan it to the other side of the snare and keep it low.  Unless you are the drummer this much signal from the drums will start to overwhelm the ears.

  1. Build bass. Bass is the one instrument it’s best not to pan in my opinion. Now that you can hear the drums and are satisfied and hopefully you DON’T have everything centered.  Turn up the bass so you can hear it.  As you add every instrument you can start low and bring it up until you hear it or start loud and bring it down until it blends in well.
  1. Build Main Instrument. We can hear the bass and drums great now. The main instrument should be either center or panned slightly left or right. Turn up whatever instrument is the lead chord instrument. Usually it will be the piano/keys, or acoustic guitar.  This instrument should be most important to everyone because it is responsible for leading on chord changes and also keeping the groove with proper timing.
  1. Build Accompaniment Instruments. This will include all other instruments. You may not want to hear them or you can bring them up just so you can hear them.  My suggestion with accompaniment instruments is to pan them on whatever side they actually are and pan them 100 percent to either side.
  1. Build Background Vocalist. Take the background vocalist and pan them 100 percent to either side. If there are 2 BV’s I will pan one to the left and one to the right.  If there are 3 BV’s I will pan 2 to one side. Usually if you have 3 BV’s one of them will be more of a leader and so that person would be panned by themselves to either side.
  1. Build Lead Vocalist. In my opinion the lead vocalist should be 100% center and be louder than everything else. In our band we do not have planned sets, we follow the leader, therefore listening to his vocal cues is very important to flowing with the band.
  1. Build Room Mic. Many places use a microphone in the room that only goes to the in ear system. This is because many people like to feel the live sound of the crowd but with most in ear systems you can’t hear anything at all without a room mic.  It depends what you want out of the room mic. I normally turn the room mic off. When I play I am concerned about what the other musicians are doing, I try very carefully to play with them and not clash in frequencies or melodies.  But some people feel dry and dead without the hearing the room.  If I was going to use the room mic I would keep it real low and panned all the way to one side or the other.
  1. Build Yourself. You should be front and center and slightly louder than everything else.  If you cannot hear your mistakes it is hard to avoid them.

Everything stated is just my opinion as I have at least 1000 hours of experience playing with in ears and in ear systems. Before the digital age I used my own analog in ear system that I carried with me.  I hope you get some use out of this guide and maybe you have learned something.  Thanks! Rob.

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