About 20 years ago, I was playing an acoustic guitar and singing worship music in front of a Galaxy Hot Spot monitor mounted on a mic-stand.The thing was turned up so loud I almost lost a filling but after adjusting the EQ and volume, I had my own personal monitor mix.
That experience really has very little to do with the IEMs (in-ear monitor systems) that I use today but we all have to start somewhere.
(By the way Galaxy is still alive and well and still making very potent small hot spot monitors.)
Making The Switch To IEMs
The first thing you will have to decide is whether or not your House of Worship (or should I say your worship band) is ready for a personal monitor system. My church made the switch about 6 years ago mainly because, and this is a fairly common problem with contemporary worship, the floor wedge monitors in our sanctuary were cranked louder than the main front of house speakers. Back in the days when I was playing and singing in the worship band, most of the players (including myself) had played, or were currently playing, in a rock band. So, we all wanted our floor monitors as loud as we could get them. It wasn’t long before the floor wedges were overtaking the main speakers and raising the overall decibel in the sanctuary and creating all sorts of audio issues. =
Before you dive into a new IEM system and set off on a new adventure in monitoring, let’s look at the pluses and minuses. At my church, the most obvious plus is that the overall mix to the congregation is now quieter and more manageable. The stage volume is still fairly loud but we eliminated the floor monitors bleeding into the microphones and also cured any feedback by eliminating the wedges.
The next benefit is improved sound everywhere in the audio signal path. There is greater accuracy having only those instruments one wishes to hear in the monitor mix without anything unwanted bleeding in from adjacent monitors or instruments. This eliminates volume wars where everyone on the stage turns up their monitors to hear themselves over everyone else’s monitor. Another plus, vocal pitch improves and vocal effort is lessened with the IEMs.
As for minuses; I personally feel somewhat cut off from the band. It is difficult (if not impossible) to converse with your band mates when you have your monitors in your ears. If you pull them out to talk and push them back in to monitor, in no time at all you will irritate your sensitive ear canals.
Not only are you separated from the players but also the congregation. In addition there is also a lack of bass frequencies in the ear-phones. I used the ear-phones that my church supplied but there are higher end phones out there that have a lot more bass. And of course, ear-phones that are molded to you own ear produce more bass.
One point I would like to make is that you should always wear both ear-phones. Wearing both in-ears is very important for our body’s natural hearing protection mechanism, the tympanic reflex, works with both ears together. Its effectiveness is diminished when one ear is protected, because it leaves the open ear more vulnerable to loud sounds. There is also a stereophonic boost (approximately 6 dB) in perceived volume when two earphones are used together.
There is another plus for your churches sound tech. The tech mixing front of house won’t have to think about the monitors. Once the signal is sent from the mixing console to the monitors that’s it. Your guy (or gal) can now concentrate on creating a sweet mix for the congregation.
We use Aviom at my church but I don’t endorse any particular manufacturer. A lot of companies make personal monitor systems and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. I suggest you check out as many systems as you can. If possible, talk with the sound techs at other houses of worship that are using IEMs. Take your time and do your homework. I am sure you will find the right system for your church.
By the way you don’t have to jump into the personal monitor world 100%. At my worship house, our drummer still uses a floor wedge. It is a self-powered wedge and he controls it with his personal monitor mixer. He says it makes him feel more connected to the band and I believe it does. Besides our drummer’s set-up, the choir uses two small floor monitors. These monitors are running at very low decibels but they add enough audio to help the choir stay on pitch and blend a bit better.
The fact of the matter there is no set-in-stone method for your personal IEM set up. So if you plan on working them into your church services there is really no right or wrong way to do it. In the long run I think you will discover that there are more pluses than minuses when it comes to personal monitors.