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5 Tips for a Better In-Ear Mix

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru
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If you are new to in-ear monitors, chances are, they are not your favorite. It's tough to get the mix just right and you often feel isolated from everyone else in the room.

After employing the tips in this post, I believe you will end up loving your in-ear monitors. When properly mixed, in-ears offer a much better result than traditional floor wedges - for you and the congregation.

Use panning to create space and separation.

If your in-ear mix is in stereo, utilizing the panning feature works wonders. Pan the acoustic guitar a bit to the left and the electric guitar a bit to the right. You can do the same with vocals and other instruments, but I recommend keeping drums, bass, and your own instrument or vocal dead center.

It is amazing how big of a difference even the slightest panning adjustment can make. The sound becomes much ‘wider’ and enables you to hear different instruments more clearly.

Keep in mind, you must wear both headphones for this to work. Also, you’ll want to avoid ‘hard panning’, which is when you pan something all the way one way or the other. In general, you don’t want to go further than halfway between center and the direction you are panning.

Clean up the low end on vocals.

There is nothing that messes up a mix more than the roaring low end of a vocal. Start by cutting the low end on all vocals (200Hz and below). Then, if they sound too thin, bring the low end back up until you are satisfied.

Add reverb to your mix.

In-ear monitors are designed to offer complete isolation. This means you get a signal that is completely dry…which often sounds dead, unless you use reverb.

To keep things simple, you can mix in the same reverb that the sound tech is using on the main mix. I recommend turning it up until you can hear it, and then dialing it back a bit so it blends in.

You might also enjoy: Reverb Techniques for Church Sound

Wear both headphones.

It’s common to see musicians with one ear in and one ear out. Although there are times to do this (like in the quieter moments when you want to hear the congregation sing), for the most part, you should keep both of them in.

When wearing only one headphone, your ears are in two different rooms, so to speak. Not only can this can be damaging to your hearing, but it gives your brain a hard time trying to blend the two things together.

In short, you’ll get a better sound using both headphones and employing the tips above to improve your mix.

Get a good pair of headphones.

Of course, the quality of your headphones can make or break your mix. But, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds on a custom pair of headphones (although if you have the budget, I am sure you wouldn't regret it).

I started with the MEE M6 Sport Headphones. At around $20, these are inexpensive and offer decent quality, although a bit lacking in the low end and a bit harsh on the highs.

Then, the same brand came out with MEE M6 Pro Headphones. At around $50, they are more than twice the price but totally worth it. I use these headphones every week and have no complaints. The lows are far superior to the Sport-Fi version and they also stay in your ears better.

Do you have any tips?

These are the things I have found improve in-ear mixes, but I am sure there are others. Feel free to share your tips in the comments below.

You might also enjoy: How to Solve Behringer P16 Volume Problems

17 Comments

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17 comments on “5 Tips for a Better In-Ear Mix”

    1. Great question Kevin. There are a few ways you could add reverb to your monitors - but it depends on the board.

      Option 1
      If you don't have built in effects, then you'll need to use a separate reverb processor and add it in an aux send/return path. The idea is that one of your aux sends goes to the reverb, then you connect the output of the reverb into a standard input channel and mix it back into whatever monitors and mains you like.

      If you have built in effects on the console, then you could have some other options available.

      Option 2
      Some consoles will have a dedicated effects channel that will have separate monitor/aux sends on the channel strip. That's often the cleanest way of sending reverb to the monitors if your console supports it.

      If your console doesn't have aux sends for the built in effects channel, then you may have two other creative options.

      Option 3
      If the effects channel has a dedicated output (in the form of a 1/4" connector on the back of the board), loop that back into an open input channel on your board. Send the "new" reverb channel back through the aux/monitor feeds from that channel strip WITHOUT sending it through the main mix.

      Option 4
      Route your effects channel to a subgroup, then take a 1/4" cable and connect the subgroup output to an open channel to get your aux feed options.

      It can definitely seem like a puzzle to route the effects signal around, and you are basically creating a "matrix" when you start layering things back into the input channels. Just make sure that any doubled effects channels don't get routed back to the original reverb channel or main mix. You're only using that second "return" effects input channel as a monitor send, nothing else.

      There may be some other creative solutions depending on your console, but these are some of the ways that I've done it in the past.

      I love the challenge and restrictions that analog gear can have sometimes - it forces us to get extra creative sometimes!

      (If you'd like to share the model of the console you're using, I might be able to give some more specific tips.)

    1. Thanks for the tip, Kevin. I almost added this to the list, but have yet to spend time figuring out the best way to accomplish this (mics to use, placement, etc). Once I have all the specifics laid out, I'll write a post on my findings.

    2. I couldn't agree more Kevin. We recently added a single room mic to our setup and every musician in our band's rotation has commented on how much it has helped their ear mixes. The connection between the band and the congregation is so much better!

      For what it's worth, we picked up a cheap condenser mic (Denon MPM-1000 for about $50) to experiment with. While I usually shy away from super cheap gear, it has been a nice addition for this application. It comes with a tiny tripod that makes it easy to set up and to conceal. I see no reason to replace it...until it breaks of course!

  1. Great post Kade! I find this one of THE most troublesome complaints amongst worship vocalists, and your tips are bang on! Would echo Kevin, some tips on room mic strategy would be useful!

  2. I'm curious if anyone has dealt with a musician that was deaf in one ear? Any advice there?

    1. Following.

      I also wear a hearing aid in the other ear so in-ear headphones are not an option. I use behind-the-ear headphones for other audio and music and all I ever change is balance. BTW - When I'm in the congregation, the band sounds great.

  3. I always want to use both ears-but we don't Mic our drums (no space on the board or snake), so when I use both, I can't hear the drums. Any advise for that??

    1. Do you have space on your board for one mic? If so, using an overhead mic on your drums would work wonders.

  4. The sound tech plays a big role in the comfort of in-ears, most especially for the vocalists. Your FOH engineer (pro or volunteer or somewhere in between) should know and have notes on the preferences of the vocalists. Blending is near impossible without changing the mix on the console or adjusting the mix manually when switching from lead to background vocals, not to mention full out even harmony or gang vocals. If a sound tech fights with a vocalist on manually adjusting the mic so that he or she is not at a "lead volume" in the ears, it could lead to a wavelike feel in FOH if the tech doesn't ride the fader just so. And it's especially problematic if they touch the gain! Vocalists can't easily just adjust their mix between songs like an instrumentalist can often. They need to work with the tech so they have flexibility to adjust and create a better sound for lead to BGV. Also...
    1. Vocalists should also reduce themselves in the mix to the lowest needed level. Too much is a host of issues.
    2. Sound techs should confer with the worship band for preferences, but many players and singers would prefer to sound check with the mains full on and adjusted for the empty space. It's of no use to set your mix without the volume of the room, unless you have top of the line or molded tips. Most of us have cheaper ones (I personally use the Mee Musican Ears noted in the article at $50.) and many vocalists, especially dynamic ones, can't get a "perfect" isolated seal due to the shape of ears changing during the singing itself (Different vowels cause different shapes!! Not to mention moving around generally!). I'm not even sure the best Shures could fix that for some vocalists.. like me!

  5. Hello,
    When you say :
    Clean up the low end on vocals.
    There is nothing that messes up a mix more than the roaring low end of a vocal. Start by cutting the low end on all vocals (200Hz and below). Then, if they sound too thin, bring the low end back up until you are satisfied.

    Do you talk about voice tracks on the master or voice tracks exclusively on auxiliaries that power the ears?

    I use an X32 and I pick up the signal for the auxiliary in pre EQ / Pre Fader.

    Thanks,
    Grégory.

    1. You actually want to clean up lows on both the main mix and in-ear mix. But, the settings will likely be different for each. Meaning this: You will probably cut more lows out of vocals for the in-ear mix than the main mix.

      Hope that helps!

  6. how would you pan in individual in ear mixes without messing with the panning done in the main mix?

    1. Hey James - You'd have to use personal mixers, like the Behringer P16 or Aviom to enable panning with in-ear mixes.

  7. Worth mentioning:

    SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY.

    Most musicians DON'T NEED every single input in their mix. To get a good working IEM mix, only use what you absolutely NEED. Click track, drums, bass, lead instrument, lead vocals. The more you add to the mix, the messier it can get if you're not actually an experienced sound person who is building the mix (which most musicians aren't).

    There are probably a lot of sound sources you don't absolutely need. Multiple guitarists, multiple keys, hand percussion, multiple vocalists, etc. Leave them out of the mix entirely while you get a feel for how to get what you really need to be hearing in order to be comfortable. Then add in the other sound sources little by little over the weeks, not all at once.

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