Monitor tips for singers

Getting a good in-ear mix can be hard for singers. Here are some helpful tips.

  • Warm up your voice before going anywhere near a mic.
    • This matters more than everything else. Neither you nor the sound engineer can get them mix right until you’re singing at your normal best. So get into a routine of warming up your voice before doing anything with the PA. This ensures your voice is at it’s “service” volume and tone, and avoids the sound engineer having to change your levels during a service (which could really mess with your mix).
  • Use earphones that fit you well.
    • To hear the mix clearly, you want earphones that create a tight seal in the ear. This reduces competition between what you’re hearing in the air and what the earphones are giving you. If necessary, try different sizes of earphone tips to find the size that is both comfortable and well-fitting. iPhone earphones are not good at all for this.
  • Get comfortable with the mic before putting your earphones in.
    • Before even thinking about monitors, just make sure the mic stand is at a good height for you, and things are positioned so you can see everything you need without having to move away from the mic. A big cause of a ‘bad’ mix is actually when singers move their mouth away from the mic.
  • Do the first bit of soundchecking your mic before putting your earphones in.
    • When it’s your turn to soundcheck, try singing without your earphones in. This makes it a lot easier to sing naturally, at your usual “service” volume, so the sound engineer isn’t tricked into setting the volume wrong and then having to mess with it later. Put your earphones in when they’re happy with the gain on the mixing desk (they’ll tell you).
  • Set your mix for the rest of the band before adding yourself.
    • Especially when you’re newer to using in-ear monitors, it can help to get everything around you sorted before setting your own level. Start by turning yourself right down to nothing. Then gradually add in everything else you need to hear (it doesn’t have to be the whole band necessarily) until you can definitely tell they’re present – but no louder.
    • Now start singing along and gradually start turning yourself up until you know you’re present – but no louder.
    • Over the next couple of songs, it’s usual to want to make some more adjustments – often to turn down some other band members and maybe turn yourself up. But start with turning other things down before turning up something you want to hear more clearly. That way, you avoid the “volume wars” that cause tinnitus and deafness. No kidding – in-ears are amazing, but they can also deafen you if not used with a bit of care.
  • Use stereo positioning (‘panning’) to separate out different instruments.
    • Our in-ear monitor system is stereo, so you don’t have to have everything dead centre in your head. Creating some separation is not only more natural (bands don’t stand in a straight line right in front of you), but will it also make it easier for your brain to notice different band members without them having to be very loud.
    • If you’re not sure how to pan a signal over towards one side, just ask someone to show you.
  • If you sound muffled, try panning yourself a little.
    • When we sing or speak, we hear ourselves partly through the bones in our head. Try putting your fingers in your ears and talking – you can still hear your voice but it’s a very muffled sound. When you use in-ears, the brain can get confused about whether to focus on the “bone sound” or the “ears sound”.
    • Panning yourself a little to the left or the right makes it easier for the brain to notice the in-ear monitor sound, and know that it’s definitely different from the “bone sound” which is very dull-sounding. That avoids you having to just keep turning yourself up and up.
  • Don’t take one earphone out.
    • If you can’t quite hear everything you want to, it’s tempting to take out one of your in-ear monitors. PLEASE PLEASE don’t – it’s a major cause of musicians deafening themselves.
    • If you’re interested, the reason for this is to do with the way the brain handles the sounds it gets through your ears and the bones in your head. If these are very different (eg one ear has an earphone and one doesn’t), it takes a lot of extra concentration to “focus in” on the earphone sound. In practice, this means that singers always need to turn up the earphone so it’s not competing for attention so much. But that means you now have a much louder sound going into your ear, and you’re way more likely to get tinnitus or even go deaf. Anyone you’ve seen with one earphone out just doesn’t care about their hearing. Sorry.
  • If you’re stuck, ask for help.
    • Whether you’re totally new or really experienced, there are times when your monitor mix just isn’t working for you and you need help. Please ask for it – we’re all in this together, and we’re all serving Jesus together, so no one ever minds helping. Ask someone in the band with a lot of experience, or ask the sound engineer to help you work out what’s not right. It usually helps a lot.

Here’s a slightly nerdy video that goes into more detail on these top tips. ..

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