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Words of Fang: Create an in-ear monitoring system (with click) on the cheap!

March 23, 2016
By

Hails metalheads! My name is Fang VonWrathenstein, vocalist for the band Lords of the Trident (http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com). Every month or so, I’ll be handing out my sage advice to other bands on how to take their band from the garage to the next level. I’m no industry insider, but I’ve been around the block a few times. Have an idea for a topic, or fervently disagree with something I write? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com.

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Adrenaline happens to everyone in this business. The rush of playing in front of a large crowd, people headbanging, screaming your name, singing your lyrics – these things get the blood pumping! So it’s understandable that these conditions will cause you to rush. Sometimes songs can sound a little better with an extra 5-15 beats per measure behind them, but some songs – especially the fast ones – will suffer if you physically can’t play that fast. Rushing (or dragging) causes all sorts of problems, from untimed harmonies to early entrances to missed notes…in essence, not playing on time makes you sound worse. And for that reason above any others, you should be playing to a metronome!

1

Anyone else have one of these sitting on the top of their piano growing up?

And don’t even think of trying to argue that you don’t need a metronome. Everyone, vocalists included, should be developing a good internal sense of time, and practicing to a metronome is a perfect way to do just that. Ask any of the “Gods of Guitar” if they practice to a metronome, and 100% of them will say yes!

“Ok, sure,” you say, “playing to a metronome is fine for practicing alone, but what about during band practice?” You could play a computer metronome through your PA, but the endless clicking would drive everyone insane. And that still doesn’t solve the problem of playing in time during shows. Your timing might get better during practice, but when the adrenaline kicks in, most of that prep might go out the window. So what’s the answer?

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Pictured: you at a gig

Well, think about it for a minute. You already have one member of the band that acts as the timekeeper – your drummer. Out of all the members in your band, it’s most important that your drummer has a metronome (AKA a “click”) in his monitor. If he knows the tempo, and sticks with it, he can lead the rest of you.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “This still doesn’t fix the issue, because your audience will be able to hear the click coming through your drummer’s monitor on stage!” That’s correct, and that’s why today we’re going to show you:

How to create an in-ear monitoring system (with a click) for cheap!

This Words of Fang article is brought to you by our drummer, Dr. Vitus. Of course, being a brilliant doctor, he came up with this genius system mostly on his own – and it works great!

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Thanks, Doc!

Most in-ear monitoring systems can get very pricey fast. The earbuds alone can cost up to $150 for the cheap versions! The cheapest one-person in-ear monitoring system that I could find was around $200. That means you’d be spending bare-minimum $1,000 for a 5-person system. That’s the sort of cash that most bands don’t have lying around. So let’s approach this problem a different way.

First, what is an in-ear system? The most expensive systems are multi-channel mixing boards that send the mixed signal, wirelessly, to receivers that the performers wear. These are connected to earphones that suction into the ear, providing monitoring and ear protection at the same time. This system replaces the standard monitor mixing board that you’d see on the side of the stage at larger venues. However, like we stated earlier, these systems are expensive! So how can we replicate this system without breaking the bank?

need to change

Let’s start by breaking down the features we need. This system needs to

  • Accept microphone inputs, be able to amplify them, and
  • Change the levels of these inputs
  • Or, for live shows, accept an output signal from the monitor mix and let the sound tech change the levels
  • Accept an input from a click (metronome), most likely from a phone (⅛” jack input)
  • Output one (or more!) channels to earphones/headphones

Right off the bat, we can get rid of the “wireless” requirement. This system is going to our drummer, who will (hopefully) remain in one place the entire show, unless you’ve secondhand purchased Tommy Lee’s hydraulic drum set. Once we’ve done that, what does this list of requirements sound like?

5

hint hint

That’s right – a simple mixer! You can buy a cheap Behringer 8-channel mixer for $80, which should work just fine for what we’re doing. Let’s assume that your mixer has 4 XLR inputs, 4 ¼” inputs, 1 RCA (red/white) input, and three outputs – main, aux 1, and aux 2. We can get by with less, but use this setup for the purpose of our examples.

Example 1 – Band Practice

Almost every band has a vocalist, so almost every band has a PA system in their practice space. This PA system should have something called “line out”, or “aux send”, or “monitor send”. This sends the mixed-down signal of all of our monitors to one output. On our system, this is an ¼” output that runs from the mixer across the practice space to our drummer’s ¼” input on a channel on his mixer. Since we’re only using the PA system for vocals, this will send the vocal mix for all of our microphones to this channel, so if the drummer needs to hear more vocals (fat chance!), he can turn up this channel.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: Ian Watkins of 'Lostprophets' performs performs live on the V stage during day 1 of the V Festival in Hylands Park on August 20, 2011 in Chelmsford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

“Why’d you just hit the mute button, brah?”

What do most drummers need in their ears? Snare, kick, and maybe a little bass or guitars. This is where our 4 XLR inputs will come in handy. At our practice space, our drummer has a microphone on the kick, and one on the snare, and these microphones run into channels 1 and 2 on the mixer. Since the output of his mixer is going exclusively to his ears, he can adjust the levels so he can hear his drums without forcing the rest of us to get an earful of massive kick blasts.

He could even run additional microphones to guitar or bass cabs and add them into his personal mix, if needed. Since he remains seated, he’ll simply run a set of headphones from the main outputs to his ears (keeping the sound low to avoid hearing damage), and voila – his own in-ear monitoring system for a fraction of the cost of a professional system.

And if he needs a click? He can easily run a metronome program from his phone to the RCA inputs on his mixer. All he needs is a ⅛” (standard headphone jack) to RCA cable, which Amazon sells for $0.99. Tempo is a highly recommended metronome app, with the ability to create playlists and jump to songs on the fly, for those of us who like to mix up our setlists, or take fan requests.

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Have another member of the band that wants to get in on the action? Provided he/she doesn’t move around a lot, you can run an aux output to another set of headphones, and adjust the aux sliders/knobs to give them their own personalized mix as well. And if the aux send isn’t amped (meaning, it’s not loud enough to hear)? Simply run the output into a cheap headphone amp, and then have them plug into the amp directly. Headphone amps can be purchased for as little as $25.

Example 2 – The Gig

This example’s even easier, believe it or not! Since the sound engineer will be in charge of the monitor mix, simply ask them to run a monitor send one of your mixer inputs – that’s it! Most sound engineers will have multiple monitor mixes available for different areas of the stage, drummer included. Have them send the drummer’s mix to your personal mixer, then have the sound engineer adjust the mix as he/she normally would. Bassist/guitarist in on the action? Have them send another monitor mix to a different channel, then adjust the aux levels until they can hear them.

The metronome setup remains the same – the app runs into your mixer, and only you will hear it!

This whole setup – mixer, cables, headphones, app – should only cost you around $150 maximum, and will greatly improve not only your practices, but your live shows as well. Give it a try, and the next time you’re rocking the club, perfectly in sync, send a little thanks to the good doctor!

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Are you a band that owes your success to my pearls of wisdom? Do you wish there was some way you could pay me back? Well there is! Buy the Lords of the Trident’s albums off AmazonMP3, iTunes, or BandCamp, watch our music videos on YouTube, and visit us online – http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com. Want to email me directly? Tell me how good/horrible my advice has been thus far? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com. If you give me an idea for an article, I’ll send you a FREE album as a reward!



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