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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One of my favorite moments in rock history can be heard on Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan” double live album from 1972. At that time, The Guinness Book of World Records deemed Deep Purple as the world’s “loudest band.” If you’re a music and sound enthusiast, this is essential listening and wonderfully exposes an ugly phase in the history of live band sound.

In particular, the open speaker “monitor wars.”

The en masse move to IEMs makes me wonder if we have lost sight of the main purpose of church music.

It’s a very brief discussion between lead vocalist Ian Gillan and (I presume) the band’s beside-stage monitor engineer. You can hear it just after their blisteringly-loud rendition of “Smoke on the Water.”

If you haven’t heard it, you should. Click this YouTube link and listen for about 15 seconds, beginning at the 7-minute, 20-second spot.

Gillan says that he wants, “Everything louder than everything else!”

That makes me laugh! Surely, no statement better represents the bad old days of loud stage sound and the struggle - even the impossibility - of giving band members, especially vocalists, the monitor sound they so desire through open speakers.

Some years later, the “Everything louder than everything else!” headaches of the “monitor wars” crept into churches as well.

Some are still at war.

A solution had to be found. Along with other technological “breakthroughs” like drum enclosures, and amp-modeling pedals (I’m not a fan of either), in-ear monitors (or IEMs) seemed to declare an end to the “monitor wars.”

As the technology has become more affordable and simpler to operate, just about every Christian church music team in the western world either has in-ear monitors or wants them. Conventional audio-tech wisdom would say that switching from the older technology of open speaker monitors to IEMs is the best thing to do.

But are IEMs really a good move?

Sure, we enjoy lower stage volume and greater control over Front of House (FOH) and monitor mixes with IEMs.

But have we fully counted the cost - in more than just dollars - of using IEMs? I don’t think we have.

No one wants a return to the “Everything louder than everything else!” conflict of open speaker wedges, side fills and stage volume that overruns the FOH. But maybe the problem is not with the choice of hardware, but is, instead, in our loss of focus on an agreed goal and an unwillingness to make selfless choices to achieve that goal.

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.
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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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