Dec 10, 2009

In-Ear Moniter Mixing: Tips and Techniques

After several years of using Aviom in-ear montering systems at Hillcrest, I've grown very fond of them and can hardly imagine ever going back to ear-blasting wedge-moniters again. My fellow worship-team members, however, have given me some mixed reviews about them, and I hope to address the most common complaints (namely, "I can't hear myself") here.

Compared to traditional "wedge" moniters (live speakers on the stage), in-ears have many advantages. First and foremost is the advantage in FOH (front-of-house) audio mixing quality. Without the "sonic pollution" of on-stage wedge moniters, the FOH engineer is able to portray an uncluttered audio mix. Before our in-ear days at Hillcrest, the excess noise being thrown around by a stage full of wedgies was resulting in the FOH mix being compromised by this excess noise.

Another advantage to in-ear monitering is the ability to control one's own moniter mix. Gone are the days of shouting back to the sound tech, "I need more guitar... More... More... No, more...". With the Aviom mixers on stage, each band member can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and not to mention do it in stereo.

The downside to all this flexibility is that it often leads to confusion. People want to hear themselves first and foremost, but if that's all you're hearing you're really missing out, and your performance may be suffering as well. The key to using in-ear moniters is getting a perfect mix. With wedge moniters, it's easy (and often necessary) to scrape by with a so-so mix. But in-ears are much less forgiving; however, when the right mix is achieved, they're worth the effort.

Achieving a perfect mix starts with the musician/singer. As with anything, if you're shy, unpracticed, or otherwise unprepared, no advice is going to save you. After that, its very important to get the right ear buds to fit your ears, and insert them so that they create a tight seal (you should hear your "head voice" when talking) and insert each bud into the corresponding ear (red=right, blue=left). Once you've got your buds in your ears and plugged into your mixer, you can start mixing.

First, here's a picture of our mixers and how they are labeled:

G=guitar and v= vocal. So, G2 is "Guitar #2," V2 is "Vocal #2," etc.

Here's a method I've found useful for getting a good mix:
  1. Begin with the Master volume at about 1 o'clock, and the Treble/Bass controls and nominal level (12 o'clock).

  2. Select your channel and bring its volume to about 50-75%.

  3. Put all other instruments/vocals to roughly 50%, all "non-musical things" (pastor's mic, handheld mic, etc) to about 25%, and completely turn off all unused channels (to avoid excess noise).

  4. Stereo panning is the key! Generally, you're going to want yourself in the center, along with bass and drums in the center because they're the rhythmic/chordal foundation of the music. Everything else--acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, voilin, other vocals, etc--should be panned incrementally and equally to either side to create a "stereo image" of the whole band. (See my example below.) What this does is keep all the sonic elements uncluttered in your head. Details below...

  5. Raise/lower the various channels to your liking. Remember, it's better to subtract than to add. For example, if you can't hear yourself, try subtracting things you have too much of. If necessary, adjust the panning of the channels if one side of your head feels "heavier" than the other.

  6. Save your mix. This is done by holding down both Recall and Group buttons, and pressing a channel number. Your mix can later be recalled by pressing Recall and then selecting the channel number you used previously. (Changes to your mix are not automatically saved; you must re-save it after making changes in order for those changes to be recalled later.) When saving your mix at rehearsal, you can call it up Sunday morning and spare yourself a BIG hassle.

What is panning? Panning simply refers to creating a stereo image (left/right). If everything is in the center, all the sonic elements are going to be competing for your brain's attention. For example, acoustic guitar and piano generally occupy the same frequency range, therefore your brain has a hard time distinguishing between them. But, when one of them is in your left ear, and the other in your right, they become distinct and clear. Also, you'll need less volume on each of their channels to hear them, freeing up "space" for other sonic elements.

Here's an example of a typical mix I might use when playing electric guitar. (I'm in channel 10, labeled G2.)

As you can see, I'm using almost no background vocals. I don't NEED them as a guitar player, so they just create sonic clutter for me. I'll usually pick one background vocal (in this case, V2) to give myself a little feeling for the songs' vocals, but the other 2 are very quiet and panned hard left/right. Keyboard and acoustic guitar (labeled "ben guitar") are partially and equally left and right, and lead vocal ("ben vocal") is a touch to one side--just enough to make it more clear. Crowd mics are hard left/right.

This brings me to one last point. As a worship team member you may have noticed in the last few weeks that there are now channels on the Aviom mixers labeled CL ("crowd left") and CR ("crowd right"). The channels correspond to the microphones we've set up on the stage facing the audience. These microphones do exactly what their name implies: Pick up the sound of our fellow worshipers in the congregation plus a little ambient noise. I've found this extremely helpful in overcoming the common isolation-anxiety associated with in-ear moniters. They allow us to hear the crowd's response and hear them singing and clapping along which enhances the experience greatly.

I hope this helps you get a better mix in your in-ear moniters. The better the mix, the less distracted you'll be, and the better leader/performer you'll be on stage.



  1. Jesse, thanks for this post! One of the issues I have (and this may not be an Aviom problem but a sound man/monitor problem) is that the Aviom doesn't handle the dynamic from playing finger style, with a pick, or slapping on my bass guitar. It's almost like I have to choose one or the other. Have any of your team experienced this?

  2. Thanks for this question. Aviom systems are known for their one major drawback: All those signals are being digitized and compressed down to a CAT-5 cable, then converted back to analog before spitting it into your ears. This is the main reason for people not using them.

    That being said, I have to ask for a little clarification on your question... Are you saying that you can't hear softer dynamics?

  3. DO you guys use a wireless IEM with the AVIOM? And which ones do you use?

    1. We do not have wireless headphones. Our headphones are Shure SCL2's, and we have a few pairs of SCL5's as well. To connect to our mixer's, we use headphone extension chords. Hope htis helps

    2. So even the praise leader goes wired from the Aviom? Doesn't it get in the way?

    3. Yeah, it's annoying. But it's not like we're jumping around and running across the stage or anything.

  4. haha ok. Maybe I'll just get a Shure IEM and try wired. I guess I can always use that for the wireless if we decide to go wireless. Thank you for your help.