For Your Praise Band, Are In-Ear Monitors Really The Right Solution?

Even at some churches, the "Everything louder than everything else!" demand is a challenge that rises from "monitor wars."

For Your Praise Band, Are In-Ear Monitors Really The Right Solution?
For sure we are facing some challenges, as we try to avoid the bad, old days of the "monitor wars." It can get out of control sometimes! One such funny example, from Deep Purple's lead singer, on the "Made in Japan" double live album, is his demanding that he wanted "Everything louder than everything else!"

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For Your Praise Band, Are In-Ear Monitors Really The Right Solution?

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Why do so many IEM users pop one ear out? Or even both? Despite often-parroted warnings from audiologists, we want to connect. We want to feel the vibe! We want to know we’re part of something that’s bigger than just one person. And we’re prepared to sacrifice some sonic clarity, performance confidence and risk possible hearing damage, to achieve it.

We recognize - perhaps unconsciously - that IEMs are working against the all-important, main objective of connection.

The bottom line is this: If I desire to perform for an audience at the highest possible level, then IEMs are of great benefit. But if my main objective is to lead the congregation to sing, I must be able to hear them! Have an acute awareness of their sonic contribution to the sound in the room. With IEMs, this is almost impossible.

I know … some will argue that ambient or room mics (facing the congregation to let musicians hear the congregation through their IEMs) solves that problem. I disagree. If you’re locked into IEMs, ambient mics can help, sure. But how many adjustable gains has that signal passed through? At least two, right?

Understand that ambient mics can only give an approximation of the congregation’s ”voice.” They will not accurately reproduce their true volume and the “vibe.” Having our ears and skin share the same vibrating air with everyone else is required for that.

My preference and strong recommendation is for open speaker monitors - at least for vocalists and especially the congregation-leading vocalist. To create connection, we need to be free from the isolating influence of IEMs. We need to hear the congregation singing with us, or we will be tempted to sing for them.

Certainly in very large, sonically difficult auditoriums, for very large congregations, with widely spread instrumentalists and singers, IEMs can make good sense - especially for the instrumentalists.

And if you’re fully committed to a metronome click or backing tracks, IEMs will still be needed - maybe just for the drummer. But, especially for smaller rooms and congregations, please resist rushing to IEMs. The costs associated with any benefits are too high.

I never want to see church bands and audio techs going back to the “Everything louder than everything else” monitor wars. Band leaders and audio engineers need to work together to establish and maintain a different culture, where all team members understand our agreed, main purpose. That is, to craft a sound that helps the congregation to connect with God and each other.


More About Grant Norsworthy
A Grammy-nominated, Dove Award-winning musician, Grant Norsworthy is also the founder, owner, content developer and principal instructor of More Than Music Mentor, helping to equip church singers, instrumentalists and technicians for artistic excellence and authentic worship.
Get in Touch: me@grantnorsworthy.com    More by Grant Norsworthy

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Comments

By webe123 on January 12, 2018

As a member of a praise band…..we have a small church of 70 people. But yet we have problems with the monitors because of hearing ourselves. What we have decided to do when we get the money, is get a IEM behringer system for JUST the musicians! The singers and lead will NOT have IEM’s. To me,I think that is about as “good as it gets” as far as using IEM’s for a small church. Our PA man is not experienced enough to get us a good enough monitor mix, so we just do the best we can. But still, this would help solve the problem of keeping the music at a reasonable level while letting the musicians hear themselves at the same time.

By Ad Lib Music on January 10, 2018

Thoughtful as always, Grant! I think the most telling thing is “if my main objective is to lead the congregation to sing, I must be able to hear them! Have an acute awareness of their sonic contribution to the sound in the room.” I don’t think many of us have that as our REAL goal. Like we want to make sure the band is working right, the techs want to make sure the band is mixed right. Of course, it’s all to facilitate worship, but the idea of the congregations “sonic contribution” doesn’t usually make it to our top 3 does it? If it does, when was the last time you chose to arrange a song so that the congregation’s singing was one of the primary or highlighted parts?

By Deslog on January 8, 2018

Have you been in church in the congregation when you are worshiping and find that you cant hear your own voice? I find a lot of churches are so loud that you can end up getting a sore throat if you try to get into it emotionally with your voice. You’re right, it’s not a concert, everyone is joining in to create one voice. Imagine if rock concerts had to lower their volume to allow everyone to hear their own voice. I understand the logistics of getting the sound balance but I think a lot of us love the volume more than the connection. Let one voice move us not volume. I must admit, if I am standing next to someone that clearly has a bad voice and is belting it out I do prefer the volume:-)

By Darth Fader on January 4, 2018

Interesting topic.  There are obviously pro’s and con’s with each approach but I tend to agree that if you have mature musicians and vocalists that are in complete unity about the “true goal” of what is trying to be accomplished that an open monitor strategy will produce a much better overall result when taking into consideration not just FOH sound but also unity, connection and “vibe”.  As a soundguy and a vocalist/musician I find myself often torn because it is obviously much easier to mix FOH with no stage volume, but I also recognize that what is happening on the platform tends to feel disconnected.


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