Why Do Singers Wear Earpieces When Performing? Here’s the Why…
If you’ve just been to a concert, you might be wondering why the performer was donning earbuds, earplugs, or headphones. So why do singers use earpieces when performing on stage?
The earpieces that singers wear on stage are called ‘in-ear monitors’. They give the singer a clear sound source, safeguard their hearing, and let them adjust the stage mix. They also allow the singer to listen to things that the audience can’t hear (such as metronomes or backing tracks) when they’re performing.
Additional Benefits of In-Ear Monitors
Here are the details:
Singers tend to rely heavily on one particular element of the arrangement in order to navigate the song effectively. For example, they might need to hear the kick drum very clearly in order to stay in time. To ensure they are pitching the notes correctly, most singers will also want to hear their own voice at the forefront of their monitor mix.
In-ear monitors allow each musician on stage to customize their mix. As an illustration, the bassist might be listening to an instrumental mix while the singer has their voice nice and loud in their monitors. This allows everyone to play (no pun intended) to their strengths by ensuring they have a mix that’s well-suited to their needs.
By nature, professional singers spend a lot of time in ear-splittingly loud environments. Without adequate hearing protection, they would be putting their hearing permanently at risk.
Whilst earplugs can effectively protect a singer’s hearing, they limit their ability to hear the mix clearly. Therefore, in addition to earplugs, performers frequently don earpieces.
The very best of both worlds is possible with in-ear monitors. They are very good at reducing outside noise because they are specifically molded to the singer’s ears. This allows the singer to hear a crystal-clear mix at a sensible volume instead of subjecting themselves to the ear-splitting volumes from the PA.
The front of house sound is very dependent on the shape and size of the room a band or artist is performing in.
This implies that singers frequently have to deal with a completely different sound on each night of a tour, which can easily confuse them. Furthermore, the sound can be very different at different parts of the stage; for example, the singer might struggle to hear the guitarist if they’re stood directly in front of the drum kit.
Their ability to move around the stage and still deliver a quality performance may be severely restricted as a result.
In-ear monitors allow the singer to hear a consistent mix no matter what venue they’re playing in or where they’re stood on stage.
Metronome (Click Track) Use
When performing live, nerves can often cause singers to start off a song at completely the wrong tempo or accidently speed up/slow down over the course of the song. While this might be effective for some songs, there is a chance that it will come off as amateurish and poorly prepared.
To circumvent this, many singers employ a metronome (commonly known as a ‘click track’). The singer listens to this device in order to stay in time because it makes an audible “click” sound at a pre-set tempo. The click track is delivered to the singer via in-ear monitors so that the audience doesn’t have to hear it.
Similarly, metronome use is essential if the singer is using pre-recorded backing tracks in their set. The backing tracks will almost certainly be out of sync with the live performance if there isn’t a metronome to keep them in time. However, this might imply that the performer is unable to hear the audience.
Sometimes, you might see a drummer wearing earpieces even though the rest of the band doesn’t sound ‘robotic’. By having only the drummer play to the click track while everyone else plays to the drummer, this will give the performance a little more of a live feel.
What Kind of Earpieces Do Singers Wear?
You may have guessed by this point that IEMs are typically the earpieces we refer to when discussing singers’ use of them. If you look closely, you’ll also see that they go around the ear to make it easier for singers to incorporate dancing and poppy movements into their performances.
The entry-level KZ ASX and the significantly better SeeAudio Yume are two examples of earpieces for singers. However, both of them are wired IEMs. This is so that wired IEMs can be used with any sound system without the need for additional accessories, which makes them standard equipment.
The main decision, then, for purchasers of IEMs is if they want generic or custom-fit IEMs:
IEMs that are universal or “generic” fit everyone the same way. They are typically less expensive, as you might anticipate. It is also worth noting they come with a variety of different tips, featuring several shapes and sizes. It’s likely that you’ll be able to find something that fits your ear reasonably well but not perfectly. Being cautious is advised because this imperfect fit will also affect sound isolation.
For budget-conscious casual shoppers and amateur performers, generic IEMs are perfect.
WHAT WE LIKE
- Still have a variety of tips for your comfort.
- Easier to return.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
- won’t offer a tight fit.
- Less sound isolation.
Naturally, custom-fit IEMs are going to fit your ear canal more snuggly and have greater sound isolation. You will need to have ear impressions taken, so they do require some effort on your part.
As an Atlanta-based medical instruction guide to ear impressions states: “Just like your fingerprints, your ears are also individual.” Before continuing, it’s crucial to take your time and make sure the impressions are being made correctly.
It might take a while before the custom IEMs are made after your impressions have been taken.
Following receipt of your ear impressions, one manufacturer, Empire Ears, predicts a turnaround time of about 8 weeks.
Last but not least, it should be mentioned that custom-fit items are typically more difficult to exchange than other items. IEMs made specifically for one set of ears and marked with a particular band’s logos are known as custom-fit IEMs. This can make them hard to resell to others. Because of this, it is wise to double-check return policies before making a purchase.
Professionals and people who frequently perform on stage for a living should use custom-fit IEMs.
WHAT WE LIKE
- Perfect fit.
- High sound isolation.
- Better comfort.
- Custom aesthetics
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
- More expensive.
- Take some work on your part (ear impressions).
- Longer wait to receive them.
- Customization makes returns challenging.
Disadvantages of Using Earpieces When Performing
The opposite is also frequently observed: a singer taking out their earpiece. We occasionally see singers cover one ear to hear their earpiece better. The fact is, despite how good in-ear monitoring can be for singers, they do have some disadvantages:
Prevents Being With the Audience
The importance, and difficulty, of truly connecting with the audience is hard to describe. A performer’s mouth must give a description of it.
Nancy Baym’s Playing to the Crowd quotes legendary Spanish singer, Nacho Vegas, saying that music can, “…create in some people who like your songs the sense that you have important things in common, like feelings or experiences in life. That is not always the case. However, it is also capable of being beautiful. Relationships with the audience can be beautiful and strange at the same time. I think that’s fantastic.”
Undoubtedly, it is challenging to cultivate this sense of connection. Artists are unable to hear the audience members sitting in front of them when their ears are blocked by IEMs. What’s worse is that bright stage lights shining in their eyes may also make it difficult to see the audience, too!
This breaks off the feeling of actually playing live. They can reclaim the sensation of performing for an audience by taking off their IEMs.
Nevertheless, there are workarounds that can achieve the best of both worlds. One of these is a method of ambient micking.
This technique allows the ambient sounds (such as audience chatter and reactions) to get through to the singer’s earpiece.
However, this isn’t usually available, especially in basic setups. In order to achieve this, the receiving microphone must be positioned so that background noises from the room dominate over the direct sound of the music. As a result, a large space and unique setup are needed.
Susceptible to Audio Malfunctions
Even though audio issues with earpieces aren’t exactly common, they can abruptly end a performance. Extreme situations, like the K-Pop example at the top, might even cause a performer to pass out.
Please take a look at this collection of IEMs fails for some milder examples, including Taylor Swift’s amazing recovery.
Getting high-quality IEMs can be time- and money-consuming, as was mentioned in the section on custom-fit IEMs. However, even if the group is performing softer music and a number of performers are taking the stage, they still need to have individual pairs.
In spite of its practicality, it turns out that sharing earbuds and IEMs isn’t a good idea. The bacteria and germs in ears can lead to ear infections. Sharing earbuds and IEMs is more akin to sharing a toothbrush than the average user realizes.
The final cost is that musicians who record will require different earpieces. Studio monitoring headphones are advised in this situation. These allow the singer to hear the recording as close as possible as to how it will sound on the record. All of this without any chance of sound bleeds.
Each performer must therefore weigh the costs of purchasing their own IEMs as well as studio monitoring headphones.
When Did Singers Start Using In-ear Monitors?
The first bands started using these devices around the 1970s and 1980s, so it’s a relatively new technology that musicians have been experimenting with. Because they are typically only worn when performing live on stage or making music videos for their upcoming big hit singles, singers do not always wear them.
In-ear monitors are now typically wireless, which makes them even more practical for singers who want to move around on stage without worrying about getting tangled in cables.
Why Do Some Singers Remove Their Earpieces When Performing?
Singers frequently take their earpieces out during performances because it makes them feel more at ease and makes them appear more authentic. Sometimes they want to hear their audience better and feel the music more closely. When they invite the crowd to sing along with them, for instance, is a good example.
Additionally, they want to be able to hear what the band members are singing or playing without an IEM system getting in the way.
Other times, it might just be that the monitors are broken or they are not receiving the right mix of sound through them, so it’s better to get rid of this device entirely and sing without anything in their ears.
Wrapping It Up – Why Do Singers Wear Earpieces on Stage?
Here are a few of the main justifications for why performers use earpieces. Now you know what those small devices are called and how they can benefit singers who perform live on stage or record music videos in a studio environment.
Please let us know if you have any questions or comments in the section below, and we’ll get back to you in the next article!