Designing An In-Ear-Monitoring System
Let's get that live game stepped up to the next level
Before you can design your system, you need to identify your goals in order to build your system to fit your exact needs. Do you need to hear each other while performing live, are you trying to sync up a drummer with your backing tracks, or maybe even run a full set of lights with your live show? These methods should cover enough ground to help you see the possibilities available to design a custom in ear monitor solution that fits your bands' needs. There are many ingenious ways to accomplish these tasks with a variety of gear these days, but these seem to be the most common at the time of this publication. Just make sure each member of your band picks the appropriate in ear monitors for the instrument they play. LEGEND IEM = In Ear Monitor FOH = Front Of House Backing Tracks = Pre Recorded fx, leads, keys, vocal harmonies... Click Track = any time keeping sound like a beep, clave, or cowbell Reference track = your song Playback Device = phone, MP3 player, tablet, or laptop QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF What types of references will you want in your IEM's? - click, reference track, each other, yourself, backing tracks... How many members of the band need to be connected to the IEM system? - The more members the more expensive and complicated this gets Does everybody need to be wireless? - If your drummer sits next to the live rig, plug them in directly and save yourself the cash Will you want backing tracks played through FOH? - Intros, outros, and fx can really spice up a live performance If you're using drum triggers will you be using a splitter to send triggers to your IEM rig as well as FOH? - if you don't split your triggers you may never know if they're misfiring Do you need to include MIDI guitar patch changes or MIDI light controllers? - This is what separates the locals from the big boys Will you need to do any pre-processing to your sounds before it gets to FOH? - If your vocalists requires a very specific effect on their mic maybe this is the route for you
Let's take a look at a few sample methods to examine what's possible depending on your needs and your budget.
METHOD 01 - CLICK/REFERENCE Is your drummer like me and performs 30 bmp faster than the song was written? This method is by far the easiest and most cost effective way to get your drummer back on track. Step 1: Purchase a playback device and IEM's.
Step 2: Assemble an audio track including any combination of click track, reference track, or rhythm guitar track, or anything else useful to keep the drummer on time. I like to make this track mono in case one side of your IEM's were to break you could still play live. It's that simple, the drummer plays along with the track in their headphones and everyone follows the drummer. Pros: Keeps the drummer locked into the correct tempo for everyone to follow. Cons: Everybody has to follow the drummer and the drummer can't hear anything but the reference/click. METHOD 02 - CLICK/REFERENCE + BACKING TRACKS If you're looking for a way to play bass drops, keys/synth, samples, intros/outros during your live set, incorporate an additional audio track to the track mentioned in the click/reference method to send to FOH Step 1: Purchase playback device, IEM's, an XLR cable, a Y cable, and an All Poetic Audio click Mixer or something similar
Step 2: Prepare your audio track for playback by panning the click/reference to the left and your backing tracks to the right
Step 3: Connect playback device to your click track mixer using the Y cable. Connect your click track mixer to the stage snake using an XLR cable. And connect your drummer to the click track mixer using IEM's Not only is your entire band locked into the tempo, but you're all synced to the backing tracks as well. Pros: Fairly simple to set up. Cheap yet road worthy. Cons: Again, only the drummer can hear the click/reference and they can't hear anyone else in the band METHOD 03 - INTERNAL REFERENCE If you're just trying to hear each other clearly, you'll need to mic up each instrument in some way and route to a small mixer and wireless units for your IEM's. The simplest version of this that I've seen is to place a mic on the rhythm guitarist's cab exclusively for the drummer to use. This keeps at least 2 people on stage locked in to each other and everyone else has to follow that pair of members. That simple version only required a mic, mixer, and one set of IEM's. Here's how to get the entire band set up with IEM's. Step 1: Purchase a small rack, power supply, rack mounted mixer, IEM's, wireless units, and any necessary mics/cables.
Step 2: For guitar/bass, use a processed line out of your pedals or amps instead of micing up your cabs whenever possible. For drums use a "trash mic" like an Audix D6 Kick Mic laying under the drummers throne pointing at the kick drum. If you choose to include vocals, you'll need to use a splitter so you can send one signal to FOH and one signal to the IEM's With the mixer sending custom mixes out to the wireless IEM's, each member has a decent headphone mix to reference while performing. Pros: You no longer have to rely on the venues to provide you with adequate monitoring. Cons: Expensive and difficult setup. If anybody fucks up their performance, they're likely to fuck up the rest of the band. METHOD 04 - INTERNAL REFERENCE + CLICK/REFERENCE If you want to improve your monitoring as well as keep everyone on time. This method is for you. Step 1: Purchase all items listed in Method 03 as well as a playback device.
Step 2: Follow the instructions for Method 03
Step 3: Run click/reference to mixer using playback device Not only can you hear each other but you all have a click/reference to play along too Pros: Makes your live performance more solid Cons: Expensive and difficult to set up. Requires entire band to agree on what makes up the click/reference track. METHOD 05 - INTERNAL REFERENCE + CLICK/REFERENCE + BACKING TRACKS For those that want to hear each other better as well as keep everyone on time but still needs to send backing tracks out to FOH. Step 1: Purchase all items listed in Method 04 as well as a Y Cable
Step 2: Follow instructions from Method 04 and use the Y cable to run both the click/reference and backing tracks off your playback device to your mixer. The left side of the Y carries your click/reference to your mixer and the right side of the Y carries your backing tracks to the stage snake for FOH. If the stage snake is only equipped with XLR inputs you may need to convert the 1/4 connector on your Y to an XLR. Not only can you hear each other and stay on time, you also have custom backing tracks that you're synched up with Pros: Your live performance should be super tight Cons: Expensive and difficult to set up. METHOD 06 - INTERNAL REFERENCE + CLICK/REFERENCE + BACKING TRACKS + PRE PROCESSING With this setup we will be collecting all of the instruments and vocals and routing them through an XLR splitter and digital mixer to send raw or processed tracks to FOH. You can use a playback device of your choosing Step 1: Purchase items listed in Method 05 but also include an 8 channel XLR splitter and a Behringer x32 Rack digital mixer or something similar
Step 2: Decide which signal is routed where. Items like the trash mic on the drums will only need to be routed to the digital mixer for your IEM system, not FOH. Other items like vocals you may want to route directly to your digital mixer for processing and then out to your IEM's as well as FOH. Items like bass and guitar will need to be routed to the splitter for use in your IEM's as well as FOH. Not only can you hear yourself, listen to a click/reference while performing, and sync up with backing tracks - but you can also pre process any vocals, guitars, or drums before sending off to FOH if you choose too. Pros: You don't have to rely on venues for monitoring or processing your tones or vocals Cons: Expensive and difficult to set up. METHOD 07 - THE KING OF LIVE RIGS This setup will provide you with monitoring, click tracks, backing tracks, pre processing, vocal fx changes, guitar patch changes, as well as a synched up light show. Step 1: Purchase everything listed in Method 06 as well as a laptop with SSD drive and Ableton Live software.
Step 2: Use the laptop/software to playback your click/reference and backing tracks via USB to your digital mixer
Step 3: Digital mixer sends backing tracks to FOH and click/reference to IEM's while also sending MIDI to digital amps for patch changes and MIDI to a DMX Lighting Controller for lighting changes.
Step 4: Run all of your vocals, guitars, basses, trash mic, and drum triggers to splitter.
Step 5: Splitter sends out signals to both FOH and digital mixer for wireless IEM's When you hit play on your laptop, all of your click/reference, backing tracks, lights, and guitar patches are in synch. Pro tip: if you used a MIDI capable vocal effects pedal you could program vocal fx changes for your vocalist as well. Pros: This is how the pros look pro Cons: Expensive and difficult to set up. RESULTS You really can pick and choose how to customize each of these to meet your needs. I once saw a band that used the King of live rigs for a reference track, backing tracks, and patch changes but nothing in their IEM's except the click/reference and themselves. Seems odd but they sounded perfectly in sync despite not having each other in their individual IEM's. Deciding exactly what you need to accomplish and what you can live without will save you a lot of headache and money down the road. Just remember to buy the highest quality products if you'll be using your gear to tour. Last thing you want is to be replacing or repairing items in your system as your touring.