Although in ear monitoring invention credits are not fully established, the name most considered to this achievement is Chris Lindop, the monitor engineer for Stevie Wonder in 1987.
In 1987, Stevie Wonder used a mobile broadcast FM station to feed a mix to a Walkman FM receiver he used on stage to give him the ability to move around the stage without loosing his mix. Of course, using a full blown broadcast station meant that anyone tuning that specific frequency on his radio would get Stevie’s Wonder mix.
This also was not legal without the proper licenses and was the basic principle of a pirate radio station.
After this first step, the next improvement came from Virginia, where someone developed an ear mold with some Sony drivers inside to get better efficiency from the concept.
Many years from then, IEM’s are a usual component on many stages and as most of the solutions we use it has his own pros and cons.
From my point of view as a monitor engineer, I find them to be a great benefit and advantage to my work, specially on festivals where you don’t have any time to properly set up 14 mixes on a stage during the short linecheck time they give you.
– Less noise on stage
It helps lower the stage overall volume, since we may remove a lot of monitors from our technical rider and sometimes even abolish them. The FOH guy will be extremelly apreciated.
– The mixes won’t interfere with each other.
If the guitar player wants the lead guitar loud as a shrieking electric saw, he can have it without disturbing the other musicians on stage.
– No monitors bleed on the microphones.
When you get your microphone of choice in front of a guitar amp, you want it to catch mainly the guitar cabinet sound. With monitors on stage, you’ll have a lot of noise bleeding from the monitors to the microphones, which will make you shape your sound in order to compensate it and consequently changing the sound you were trying to achieve.
– No feedback.
The dreadfull feedback never showing up again. Most of monitors engineers already caught a singer without projection that doesn’t hear himself in the middle of a loud band, even though you’re already pushing +32dB on the preamp just to get a perceptive level of his voice. This means, you’ll start cutting your GEQ on the monitor as crazy in order to have his vocals audible. And of course, if the singer doesn’t know how to properly grab a microphone, there’s no EQ that may save you from the occasional feedback. Depending on the kind of show you’re working on, feedbacks may be a show breaker.
– The health benefits.
Reducing the overall SPL on stage and having a tight sealed mold in your ears, will let you work a more accurate mix and at confortable levels, which will reduce your hearing damage probability.
– Always the same reference.
Your monitors are always the same with in ears. You can go all over the globe and expect your monitors to sound the same. Less need to compensate the room acoustics and the monitors response, making the job easier and faster, leaving us more time to concentrate on the mix.
– Operation cost.
If you have your own system, count on using fresh batteries on the start of each show for all the beltpacks you’re using. Not a big problem on smaller bands and short show times, but when you go big, with 12 musicians on stage and 2 and a half hours shows and 4 hours soundchecks, you’ll use up to 48 AA batteries on a show day.
– Feeling inside a box.
Being in an arena with 10000 pax and having your ears plugged is weird for anyone. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to bypass adding some ambient microphones to the mixes. When properly mixed, you’ll make the musician forget about the buds in his ears.
– Lo_s_ng th_ sig_al.
As most IEM systems still rely on a carrier frequency to transport the signal, there are still many systems that need to be setup for the conditions and locale of each show. Even then, with the audience change from soundcheck to live show, all the mobile phones on the crowd, the security and show personnel radios, tv and radio broadcasting, emergency vehicles and many other possible interference sources, it’s always good to have a spare beltpack on other tested frequency to replace on the musician who is experiencing problems. Never forget to check the locale available frequencies to work on and do use the proper antennas and combiners for your system in order to minimize the risk of such problems.
– Volume reference.
As the receiver beltpacks have their own volume knob, you can’t ever be sure that the volume you’re hearing on your IEM cue is properly setup with the musician’s volume. You can always ask them to set it up at a specific volume and you’ll control the mix volume on the console, at their request.
I won’t go in further detail on many pros and cons of the IEM choice and at the end it’s always a personal choice for each musician, band and engineer, but I believe it to be one of the most significant tools a monitor engineer should at least think about, for some specific situations.
As for brands and available equipment, I personally recommend taking a look at some of the below choices:
Stage Center Blog is not in any way affiliated to the brands above and the mention of the equipment above is from my personal taste and experience.
Hope this article helped clearing some doubts and/or questions you may had on this subject. Feel free to reach us, if you’d like to expand the discussion and put on some ideas I may have not included.