I use custom ear molds with Sensaphonics ears and the Shure PSM 900 Wireless System.
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Anyone who has ever performed live knows you need some kind of stage monitors that will help you sing accurately and deliver confident performance magic. The mix of instruments and voices, the sonic envelope, ambiance and volume of sounds you hear in your monitors can make or break your performance, because your vocal apparatus responds to what your ears hear. Hearing too little of what you need will usually result in pushing your voice excessively, which can lead to vocal fatigue and damage as well as limit vocal control. Too much monitor sound, or the wrong mix of sounds, can sabotage confident breath support as well as control, and can cause you to sing out of tune, among other issues.
In my career, I have most often used stage wedge monitors, but finally made the plunge and got a set of in-ear monitors to use myself and to be able to advise my students.
Personally, I really love hearing the whole room when I perform, and getting ready for my first in-ear show I wondered how I would do with those monitors inserted in both ears, isolating me from the sound I'm so used to. I actually ended up LOVING them!!
We've all seen artists on stage, even on the major music award shows, with one in-ear monitor dangling on their neck. When I asked several singers and doctors about wearing them in just one ear, and received conflicting advice. However, the jury is now in: For the safety of your hearing,
...never use just one!
I got to chat with the real expert on the subject of in-ears: doctor of Audiology Michael Santucci, who was manning his Sensaphonics booth at a NAMM event. When I asked him about using just one side of these monitors, he stated in no uncertain terms that it creates a serious risk to hearing to use just one in-ear. He explained why, but rather than try and call that up for you verbatim, here is Michael Santucci and Mike Dias of IEM manufacturer Ultimate Ears, explaining it in Mix Magazine:
Santucci explains: "One danger from too much isolation comes when musicians decide to “fix” the problem by wearing an earpiece in only one ear. When players take one out, their brain loses its ability to do binaural summation, where two ears together add up to a 6dB increase in your perception of loudness. If you're hearing 90 dB in both ears, your brain thinks it's hearing 96 dB. If you take one ear away, then that one ear has to go from 90 to 96 to sound like 96. And now the other ear is open and getting bashed by the band, the P.A. and the crowd. So this loud sound coming into the open ear causes you to turn the other ear up even more. In terms of ear safety, using one earpiece is a dangerous practice — it could actually be worse than using none at all.”
Mike Dias continues the discussion: “There's a common misconception that an artist can use just one earpiece and still use stage monitors, but this results in the worst of both worlds,” says Dias, who offers a simple experiment to demonstrate this. “Have someone stand onstage with a beltpack using one ear and turn it up to a comfortable performing level. Now shut the beltpack off and run the stage monitor to a comfortable level. When you turn the monitors and the single earpiece on, the artist inevitably thinks the in-ear sounds weak and cranks it up to compensate. But when you turn the wedges off, the artist will notice that the earpiece is too loud. In the case of one-ear listening, you don't get the benefit of hearing protection and you don't get the accuracy benefit of the in-ears.”I don't know about you, but I value my ears too much not to heed this advice from this authority. If you find yourself in the habit of dropping one of your in-ears on stage, and you have the budget, it might be worth an upgrade to ambient sound in-ears, which gives you the ability to 'dial in' just the right amount of ambient sound.
Or, you might do like I do; put them in both ears but insert them just loosely enough that a little outside sound can leak in without them dropping out of your ears. BUT: Just know if you wear them loosely, you won't get nearly as rich a sound in your mix. It's really best, if you use them a lot, to work with a sound engineer BEFORE the tour to get your snugly-inserted in-ear monitor mix just right, and then rehearse with them that way so you get used to the feeling and the sound of snugly wearing your in-ears.
More In-Ear Tips:
- Don't forget to clean them after every use! That wax build up can create problems.
- Be careful how much bass you have in your mix. Bass overtones can cause you to be pitchy.
I really like the advice given in these Youtube videos I found:
- from the Shure company... https://youtu.be/Q_cQx6qd4VQ
- from audio professional at Kettner Creative... https://youtu.be/bfWeA0FP62A
Now what about you?
Do you use in-ears on stage? How are they working for you? What tips can you share about them? I'm very curious!