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A Problem with IEM for vocallists
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
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A Problem with IEM for vocallists

i'm a drummer and have worked as a music director for a couple of musical outfits. The reason i've created this thread is that i've found many vocalists who are new to or have little experience with IEM severely struggling with the concept of wearing earphones while singing. i never really understood why monitoring on earphones was such a struggle, instead, as a drummer i find it liberating and (when you have a good mix) quite an upgrade from listening on wedges. But most singers i worked with just never welcomed the idea and i really couldn't understand why. Even after i stood up off the kit to go where they were to wear their earphones to confirm with my own ears that the mix was good, and to confirm from the singer's opinion that the mix was indeed good.

But then later after much thought and personal experimentation i realized that the reason they struggle with wearing snugly fitting earphones is because, when your ears are plugged tight, even before any audio is sent to the earphones, plugged ears make for an uncomfortable situation in the sense that you can basically hear everything going on in your sinus cavities. You can hear yourself swallow, breath, chew, speak and sing. Now while the physical resonance of your skull has no volume knob except to vary the velocity of your singing, the solution for most of my vocalist friends has been to unplug one and sometimes both earphones just for to achieve comfort. This poses the obvious problem: unless there are side fills, or if the earphones were a REPLACEMENT for wedges, it means the vocalist cannot hear a mix, leading to pitch and timing issues.

So my question is for vocalists who have a tonne of experience using IEM fluently for long performances. What's your secret to dealing with hearing yourself in your head uncontrollably amplified by plugging your ears? What advice could i give to them who are struggling with the same?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
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I don't like IEMs for the same reason I don't like mixing with headphones. In my case, I'm more prone to an ear infection when the ear canals are closed off for extended periods of time. I was going to get a floor wedge for my solo guitar/vocal gigs, but tried an IEM arrangement for about four gigs. While I dug the sound and got lost in it, being completely shut off from the audience, bugged me. It's also easy to overdo it. I was competing with an outside DJ at one gig and I ended up pumping the volume a little much.

One thing I cannot stress enough. If you are using IEMS, DO NOT TAKE ONE OUT. This can do incredible damage to your hearing.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The10inchtom View Post
...the solution for most of my vocalist friends has been to unplug one and sometimes both earphones just for to achieve comfort. This poses the obvious problem: unless there are side fills, or if the earphones were a REPLACEMENT for wedges, it means the vocalist cannot hear a mix, leading to pitch and timing issues.
There is another potential problem (JD666 has just referred to). In a loud situation (onstage) your brain automatically "attenuates" your awareness of the sound in order to handle the various dynamic ranges we encounter, listening out for lions while hunting in the tall grass, listening for worms, etc. Unfortunately we weren't blessed with independent control over each ear so when we're presented with stage wedges and an acoustic drummer our hearing sensitivity runs for the hills.

At the same time we put an IEM in one ear but the usual volume levels don't cut it any more so we need to turn it to 11 just to hear the normal level. Headphones will deafen you and unlimited IEMs will do it very efficiently.

More to follow later.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
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A lot of it is just getting used to how things sound and behave...well, that coupled with personal preference. Ordinary, non-in-ear monitoring is certainly more natural, in as much as it's the way we hear things normally in everyday life. But with practice I don't see any reason a singer couldn't get used to IEMs, and proficient at using them, and at least somewhat comfortable with using the setup.

That is, of course, assuming one has sufficiently well-fitted IEMs that are properly set up, physically comfortable to wear, etc.

As a keyboard player as much as anything (at least the times when I've used in-ear monitoring), I found it preferable to wedges because the overall volume could be down at reasonable levels rather than too loud for my tastes. They do for sure make for a bit of a disconnect between you and the rest of the world, which is not always a welcome thing when performing for an audience.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
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i have yet to experience a singer who's not comfortable with getting a stereo in-ear mix processed with a klangfabrik! veeery expensive though... - for some singers, the fact that even very dense mixes become much more transparent via the 3d processing and hence levels can get lowered by ca. 3db without any loss in quality is worth the high price tag...

using headphone amps with a crossfeed matrix can also help but i've never fed the output of such a device into a transmitter for inears.

may i ask whether the vocalist you are referring to got signals of ambient mics and levels were properly (meaning: dynamically) adjsted during/between songs?
Old 1 week ago
  #6
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In the acoustic americana world two processes are prevalent to remedy the OP's well worded inquiry.

1) Several very well known lead singers prefer to use one ear only with either over or in the ear devices. Their mix is always a custom mono version of the audio they require at a db level that does not risk ear problems.
2) I am very comfortable with my Grado 325 open phones for mixing or ATM50s for tracking however, for live gigs, I deploy a tuned wedge to balance FOH stage bloom that works very well as an alternative to on or over ear devices.

The qualifier in this discussion is the db levels on stage. A relatively quite stage is required to use wedges in the manner I have described however when possible it does deliver complete control of the dynamic levels of the performance to the talent on stage: not at the FOH desk. Hot back lines and the more me generation are a totally different deal!
Hugh
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shufflebeat View Post
There is another potential problem (JD666 has just referred to). In a loud situation (onstage) your brain automatically "attenuates" your awareness of the sound in order to handle the various dynamic ranges we encounter, listening out for lions while hunting in the tall grass, listening for worms, etc. Unfortunately we weren't blessed with independent control over each ear so when we're presented with stage wedges and an acoustic drummer our hearing sensitivity runs for the hills.

At the same time we put an IEM in one ear but the usual volume levels don't cut it any more so we need to turn it to 11 just to hear the normal level. Headphones will deafen you and unlimited IEMs will do it very efficiently.

More to follow later.
you raise a really really good point here Shufflebeat! we shall wait patiently for the more that follows (hopefully sooner than) later. Thanks
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
i have yet to experience a singer who's not comfortable with getting a stereo in-ear mix processed with a klangfabrik! veeery expensive though... - for some singers, the fact that even very dense mixes become much more transparent via the 3d processing and hence levels can get lowered by ca. 3db without any loss in quality is worth the high price tag...

using headphone amps with a crossfeed matrix can also help but i've never fed the output of such a device into a transmitter for inears.

may i ask whether the vocalist you are referring to got signals of ambient mics and levels were properly (meaning: dynamically) adjsted during/between songs?
Thank you deedeeyeah. i don't know about klangfabrik, i will certainly look it (them) up. And yes in my original post i didn't address the problem of feeling disconnected with the audience (which DrewE has also mentioned). A solution for this, we experimented with placing a matched pair in ORTF right between the singer and her audience (facing the audience). While this definitely bettered the situation by allowing her to not only hear the audience but also to customise their volume in her ears, the initial problem remained unsolved.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The10inchtom View Post
Thank you deedeeyeah. i don't know about klangfabrik, i will certainly look it (them) up. And yes in my original post i didn't address the problem of feeling disconnected with the audience (which DrewE has also mentioned). A solution for this, we experimented with placing a matched pair in ORTF right between the singer and her audience (facing the audience). While this definitely bettered the situation by allowing her to not only hear the audience but also to customise their volume in her ears, the initial problem remained unsolved.
i don't (fully) agree with your basic assumption (reasons for issues being of physical/biological nature - unless i got you wrong?):

- if that would be the case, how would you then explain that some singers have no problems at all using in ears or closed headphones?
- if you were referring to musicians hearing sound INSIDE their head, both measures i mentioned do the trick.

i do agree though that issues often get overlooked by sound techs and imo there are some key factors which can lead to getting used to in-ears - however, many of these factors...

(wearing both ear pieces, true stereo-mix/no mono-to-stereo 'upmixing', correct stereo positioning of sources within the soundfield as perceived from the singer, ambient sound for feeling conected and either ducking of ambis* during songs or level riding, use of dedicated efx for each headphone mix, minimal latency, getting accustomed to the difference between what's wanted and needed, use of vibration plates, but kickers, side fills, wedges etc.)

...vary a lot from singer to singer: i've come across singers (and musicians) who worked on mixes which i would have refused to get bothered with while they seemed to be perfectly fine (or at least they thought so until they got offered a different mix).

and it's certainly also true that some singers will (probably) never adopt to inears (or feel comforable with) or stick to questionale habits (such as wearing but one era piece which inevitably leads to higher levels being needed to hear anything at all).

not sure how to get those folks a pleasant experience: using the same inears as the singer certainly helps the engineer to get at least an idea what the singer may experience; a perfect emulation however ain't possible...

...and then there are those would simply don't want to use inears (for which there are plenty of very good reasons too) - which is okay by me (although mixing monitors for bands which have members on different systems is indeed tricky) - after all, my role as sound tech first and foremost is to please the artists!




*i found uncorrelated signals from mics in wide a/b, from (kyper)cardioids if not shutguns (to get rid of some of the pa bloom and to 'look' deeper into the audience) to work better than those from centrally located coincident or close-to-coincident mic system such as the ortf you mentioned.
Old 1 week ago
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
i don't (fully) agree with your basic assumption (reasons for issues being of physical/biological nature - unless i got you wrong?):

- if that would be the case, how would you then explain that some singers have no problems at all using in ears or closed headphones?
- if you were referring to musicians hearing sound INSIDE their head, both measures i mentioned do the trick.

i do agree though that issues often get overlooked by sound techs and imo there are some key factors which can lead to getting used to in-ears - however, many of these factors...

(wearing both ear pieces, true stereo-mix/no mono-to-stereo 'upmixing', correct stereo positioning of sources within the soundfield as perceived from the singer, ambient sound for feeling conected and either ducking of ambis* during songs or level riding, use of dedicated efx for each headphone mix, minimal latency, getting accustomed to the difference between what's wanted and needed, use of vibration plates, but kickers, side fills, wedges etc.)

...vary a lot from singer to singer: i've come across singers (and musicians) who worked on mixes which i would have refused to get bothered with while they seemed to be perfectly fine (or at least they thought so until they got offered a different mix).

and it's certainly also true that some singers will (probably) never adopt to inears (or feel comforable with) or stick to questionale habits (such as wearing but one era piece which inevitably leads to higher levels being needed to hear anything at all).

not sure how to get those folks a pleasant experience: using the same inears as the singer certainly helps the engineer to get at least an idea what the singer may experience; a perfect emulation however ain't possible...

...and then there are those would simply don't want to use inears (for which there are plenty of very good reasons too) - which is okay by me (although mixing monitors for bands which have members on different systems is indeed tricky) - after all, my role as sound tech first and foremost is to please the artists!




*i found uncorrelated signals from mics in wide a/b, from (kyper)cardioids if not shutguns (to get rid of some of the pa bloom and to 'look' deeper into the audience) to work better than those from centrally located coincident or close-to-coincident mic system such as the ortf you mentioned.

Thanks deedeeyeah. i understand you completely. Although the problem i'm addressing is not a problem of a faulty mix. The problem i'm trying to point to begins (i quote) "...before sending audio to the earphones," Naturally when your ears are plugged (whether with earphones or with fingers), your own voice becomes unbearably loud to you while you speak, let alone while you sing very very loudly. This is not an assumption. What this means is that even if an engineer is using the exact same brand of earphones and listening to the exact same mix as the singer, the engineer cannot hear the physical vibrations of the singers skull in his ears the way the singer hears them. (Just like if you block your own ears with your fingers, your immediate neighbor cannot hear what you're hearing, but this is an extreme example)

i know that there are singers out there who have a lot of experience with IEM and are completely comfortable with them. Which is why i was initially asking for their recipe. I would really like to know how they deal with it.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
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https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occlusion_effect

If you can't imagine it try eating potato crisps (chips) with your fingers in your ears.

The best way to deal with this (in my experience) is to explore what options might ease the situation, then embrace what you can't change.

Try different tips on your IEMs. For me and my se215s Comply foam tips don't necessarily ease the effect but are very efficient so the sound I pipe into my head is clear and focussed and I only add what I need. The direct sound from the O/E is mainly bass/lo mid so I EQ that out of my mix (not hugely, but noticeably). My mix is (crudely), Vox, Ac Gtr, Hihat in varying amounts. All is then compressed/limited so that my hearing is never strained by unexpected spikes.

Limiting is always a necessity, if your system doesn't have it or if it's not good enough- it might be time to upgrade your IEM to better or your mixer to digital.
Old 19 hours ago
  #12
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JayTee4303's Avatar
If you have a vocallist hit a single sustained note thru a mic, while you spec-a the output, you'll see that very few vocal cord/throat/mouth cavities generate a pure sine wave.

Inside the skull, the situation can become even more chaotic. In my OPINION, backed up by ZERO peer reviewed research, oddities in individual bone structure and resonant nasal cavities are pribably THE difference between "perfect pitch" and "can't carry a tune in a bucket."

The bottom line is this... the audience ONLY hears what the mic hears, NEVER what's going on in the singer's head.

Pretty sure my cavities generate only the purest array of discordant harmonics, which is why I'm NOT a legendary vocallist. If you could hear the beauty I hear in my head, combined with what I also hear thru my ears, you be handing over every Grammy ever awarded, but alas... what makes it to tape or the mains is a pathetic mess, oh the agony.

I can... however... hit the occasionaly decent note, live... IF I very carefully and painstakingly get the mix juuuussst right.. ears very slightly louder than skull resonance, with perfect EQ on each part, a 30 minute process on a good day, and the necessary mix changes minute to minute as my ears adapt and adjust to what's being delivered by the monitors.

Personally, I prefer wedges, because I do get useful info plugging one ear with a thumb for the first couple lines of each song.

In the studio, or live, I approach this huge array of variables as follows:

1. If vox out the mains works, stroke the singer, instead of making changes.

2. If not, jack into their mix, and help them work it out. Advance prep is mandatory for live events, and success is elusive, especially with certain vocallists. Sonetimes you just have to take what you get.
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