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#1
Old 06-22-2011, 10:22 AM
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What is the purpose of the earphones worn by singers

What is the purpose of the earphones worn by singers during a performance.

Is it a noise cancellation device to protect their hearing or is it for them to hear the music better or some other function?

Thanks - I've long wondered about this so decided to ask.
#2
Old 06-22-2011, 10:26 AM
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Those are in-ear monitors. They are so the PA board can pipe your own voice - and other singers and the band at your preference - back at you so you can hear how you sound. The onstage amplification is often in front of the singer or positioned away from them. If you don't have monitors, you often can't hear yourself at all, risking a lousy performance and vocal damage...

This was a much bigger issue back in the day when the house speakers were poor, the onstage backline of amps were HUGE and the PA's were questionable. If you look at concert footage you see little speaker cabs at the front of the stage pointing back at the band. Those are "wedges" - speakers functioning as monitors. They added to the overall noise but were a godsend to the band. In-ears are more efficient and work with the new stage set ups, where the house PA can spread quality sound throughout the audience and the onstage backline is much smaller...

Last edited by WordMan; 06-22-2011 at 10:29 AM.
#3
Old 06-22-2011, 11:38 AM
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Additional information:

If the entire band is on in-ear monitors, and wedge and "side fill" monitors can be eliminated, the volume of sound produced directly by the stage drops dramatically. Thus will allow the volume of the main sound system to be lowered as well, increasing the clarity of the system and allowing much greater dynamic range. They, as much as any other technology, has resulted in the excellent quality of concert sound these days.

I've seen bands, like Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard/A True Star" and "Healing/Todd" tours that literally have no speakers at all on stage, with even the guitar and bass amps off on the sides of the stage. These work well for most musicians except for drummers, so they will often have a bass shaker mounted to their drum throne.
#4
Old 06-22-2011, 11:49 AM
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As a drummer, I can vouch that playing live without monitors is a nightmare. People who have never played music on a stage have no idea how important it is to hear the music (or how difficult it can be to hear up there period, despite all the amplification).
#5
Old 06-22-2011, 11:59 AM
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Not a singer, but done some amateur acting while mic'd...

In ear monitors also have an advantage over wedges by eliminating the possibility of feedback due to bad monitor layout. (I would hope pros would be better about this than the people I was working with, but, hey, there's always the possibility.)
#6
Old 06-22-2011, 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Tengu View Post
In ear monitors also have an advantage over wedges by eliminating the possibility of feedback due to bad monitor layout. (I would hope pros would be better about this than the people I was working with, but, hey, there's always the possibility.)
Even with great monitor layout, the whole process of having a speaker five feet from a microphone that is being fed by it is inherently fraught.

The whole world of concert sound is a balancing act. The monitors on stage have to be loud enough so the musicians can hear themselves. The main sound system has to be loud enough for the crowd to hear the band. But the monitors have to be loud enough so the musicians don't hear the main speakers, which are muffled and delayed where they stand.
#7
Old 07-02-2011, 04:45 AM
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Easiest way to explain why its so important to be able to hear your own voice, listen to how it makes deaf people speak. The reason they sound the way they do is simply because they don't have that regulating 'feedback loop' as it were.

It's also why people tend to speak much too loudly on a cellphone. Regular phones pump a little bit of what you say into their mics back out into your speaker into your ear because it helps you regulate your speech much better (there's a name for the circuit, can't think of it).

Alexander Graham Bell himself discovered this (not coincidentally because he spent most of his life working with the deaf).
#8
Old 07-02-2011, 05:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Hail Ants View Post
It's also why people tend to speak much too loudly on a cellphone. Regular phones pump a little bit of what you say into their mics back out into your speaker into your ear because it helps you regulate your speech much better (there's a name for the circuit, can't think of it).

Alexander Graham Bell himself discovered this (not coincidentally because he spent most of his life working with the deaf).
I've heard that as well...so why the hell don't cellphones do the same?
#9
Old 07-02-2011, 12:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail Ants View Post
Easiest way to explain why its so important to be able to hear your own voice, listen to how it makes deaf people speak. The reason they sound the way they do is simply because they don't have that regulating 'feedback loop' as it were.

It's also why people tend to speak much too loudly on a cellphone. Regular phones pump a little bit of what you say into their mics back out into your speaker into your ear because it helps you regulate your speech much better (there's a name for the circuit, can't think of it).

Alexander Graham Bell himself discovered this (not coincidentally because he spent most of his life working with the deaf).
I think it's called "sidetone"....
#10
Old 07-02-2011, 12:17 PM
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Bad monitoring can cause real problems for the band.

I once played a show with a replacement drummer, Phil. Phil had less than a week to learn our set. The venue provided the sound guy. We did the sound check and thought all was cool.

We started the gig and all seemed well. Then during the third song the drums stopped. Out of the corner of my eye I see Phil *vault* over his drum set. He then ran and jumped off the stage. Phil ran up a couple rows then jumped over the sound board. He then started beating on the sound guy.

The sound guy had, as it turns out, turned off Phils monitor for some reason. This was a bad idea as Phil could not hear anyone else and got lost since he didn't know the songs very well. It was also a bad idea because Phil was fucking crazy. We pulled Phil off the sound guy. The sound guy left and we could use our sound guy from there on out. The rest of the show went really well.

Slee
#11
Old 07-02-2011, 01:22 PM
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Originally Posted by sleestak View Post
I once played a show with a replacement drummer, Phil. <SNIP>

It was also a bad idea because Phil was fucking crazy. <SNIP>

Slee
Sounds like all the drummers I've known
#12
Old 07-02-2011, 02:56 PM
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Phil

Last edited by gaffa; 07-02-2011 at 02:56 PM. Reason: Wrong link
#13
Old 07-02-2011, 03:15 PM
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Quote:
What is the purpose of the earphones worn by singers
To look cool, baaaby!


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#14
Old 07-02-2011, 03:25 PM
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You may notice that people who are singing or announcing without any kind of monitor or headphones will sometimes cup their hand next to their ear to improve their ability to hear their own voice. I speak from experience that the sound I hear inside my head when I'm talking is nothing at all like what the people around me are hearing.
#15
Old 07-02-2011, 03:41 PM
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I have an obscure pet peeve - singers taking out one of their in-ears. Very bad idea. The monitor mixer usually has a pair of audience microphones to bring into the singer's mix to allow them to hear the crowd. When you take out one of the in-ears, the other one has to be made much louder to compensate. Try it - listen to a piece of music through headphones, then take one earpiece away. You'll want to make the remaining one louder. Bad idea and hard on that ear.
#16
Old 07-03-2011, 04:24 AM
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Originally Posted by KneadToKnow View Post
You may notice that people who are singing or announcing without any kind of monitor or headphones will sometimes cup their hand next to their ear to improve their ability to hear their own voice. I speak from experience that the sound I hear inside my head when I'm talking is nothing at all like what the people around me are hearing.
Ain't that the truth. I actually got worse as a singer for a while when I was following the advice from a book (as my voice teacher moved away.) Turns out what sounded warm in my head sounded whiny and nasally to everyone else. And people were just too polite to say anything, I guess.
#17
Old 07-04-2011, 12:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Gabriel
... Out of the corner of my eye I see Phil *vault* over his drum set. He then ran and jumped off the stage. Phil ran up a couple rows then jumped over the sound board. He then started beating on the sound guy.
So why did you end up letting Phil lead the band? And you didn't make him perform in costume like before... And you even let him sing!

jk!
#18
Old 07-07-2011, 12:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KneadToKnow
You may notice that people who are singing or announcing without any kind of monitor or headphones will sometimes cup their hand next to their ear to improve their ability to hear their own voice. I speak from experience that the sound I hear inside my head when I'm talking is nothing at all like what the people around me are hearing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigT View Post
Ain't that the truth. I actually got worse as a singer for a while when I was following the advice from a book (as my voice teacher moved away.) Turns out what sounded warm in my head sounded whiny and nasally to everyone else. And people were just too polite to say anything, I guess.
There's a physiological reason for this too. Basically its because a large portion of the sound of one's own voice isn't 'heard' externally by your ears (IOW from the sound waves traveling out of your mouth and back into your ear canal) but by direct resonance thru the flesh & bone of your head. This generally makes it sound deeper and less nasally to yourself (but, of course, not to others).

Legendary disc jockey Gary Owens (probably best know from his skits on Laugh-In) sort of made the hand-earcup thing his trademark as he always does this whenever he's being filmed while doing his DJ voice even though he's always actually wearing earphones.
#19
Old 07-09-2011, 02:16 PM
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Ok, very interesting; I have some additional questions.

I have Shania Twain's concert in Chicago (Grant Park) DVD, and I watch it regularly.

I notice that she and her bandmates have a transistor radio size control device of some kind attached to their belt, on the back, right side. From time to time, one of them will reach back and "adjust" something. I assume this is a volume or mix control of some kind?

Also, her bandmembers are multi-talented (or muliti-skilled), playing two or three instruments, but I find it hard to believe each is also talented enough as a singer to hold up the performance if it were, say, a capella. Yet, the DVD sure makes it sound like they are playing and singing together in perfect harmony.

What if one of them is "off" in some manner: either just not a great singer, lost, forgot the words, or [other]? Does that affect the performance of the others, particularly Shania, when it comes through the earphones?

A final odd question: Is there any capacity for a bandmember to "communicate" some stage-business message via this system, or would that be heard too clearly by the audience?
#20
Old 07-09-2011, 09:58 PM
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Originally Posted by wei ji View Post
Ok, very interesting; I have some additional questions.

I have Shania Twain's concert in Chicago (Grant Park) DVD, and I watch it regularly.

I notice that she and her bandmates have a transistor radio size control device of some kind attached to their belt, on the back, right side. From time to time, one of them will reach back and "adjust" something. I assume this is a volume or mix control of some kind?
Volume. In theory one could have a system with two channels and a mix knob, but that is usually left to the monitor engineer.

In all but the biggest and smallest venues, the monitor engineer is right on the side of the stage creating custom mixes for the musicians and singers. Unless something goes terribly wrong, the same person will mix monitors for the entire tour, and probably several tours. A great monitor engineer is constantly watching the main performer, and making sure everyone else is happy when they get a chance. It is a job you get and keep by being empathetic and damn near psychic.

Quote:
Also, her bandmembers are multi-talented (or muliti-skilled), playing two or three instruments, but I find it hard to believe each is also talented enough as a singer to hold up the performance if it were, say, a capella. Yet, the DVD sure makes it sound like they are playing and singing together in perfect harmony.
You're not going to play on stage with Shania Twain unless you are very talented and seasoned. Or not for long.

In-ears make the job of harmonizing much easier. The monitor engineer spends a huge amount of time working on the appropriate mix for each singer. Some like to hear themselves in one ear, the harmonizers in the other, some prefer the monitor engineer to create a naturalistic mix in the middle, so they can hear how the singers blend.

With in-ear monitors and a talented engineer, being on-stage is virtually the same as being in a recording studio. For the past decade or so, mixing boards have transitioned from analog - where every knob, button and slider has to be manually set, to digital - where every single function is stored and can be recalled. Especially in the case of in-ear monitors, they determined exactly how the monitors are mixed during rehearsals and all those settings have been saved to a USB drive. The tour could go to another country and they could rent the same equipment, plug in the drive and produce the band's favored monitor mix in seconds.

Quote:
What if one of them is "off" in some manner: either just not a great singer, lost, forgot the words, or [other]? Does that affect the performance of the others, particularly Shania, when it comes through the earphones?
Not usually a problem. Those people who shout out requests are wasting their time. 99% of arena concerts have pre-planned setlists, with everything planned down to the second. The odds of forgetting a song that you've been singing every night for weeks are about the same as not being a decent singer.

If you're getting old, and remembering all the words of a song you wrote when you were 18 is getting tough, there are ways of making it work.

Quote:
A final odd question: Is there any capacity for a bandmember to "communicate" some stage-business message via this system, or would that be heard too clearly by the audience?
Yeah, they're called "roadies".

At that level, each player has a tech to set up, break down and care for their equipment. For instance, if the guitar tech is not tuning a guitar or replacing a string, he is waiting on the side of the stage watching to performer to make sure everything is going well. I don't know if Shania plays any instrument, but I'm sure she has an assistant watching the show with a clean fluffy towel in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, ready to help at a moment's notice.

Last edited by gaffa; 07-09-2011 at 10:01 PM.
#21
Old 07-10-2011, 01:29 AM
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This seems like a good place to ask about something related to singing and headphones -- I remember back when I was a teen (late 70s) asking a singer why he practiced using a speaker playing his backing music instead of headphones, and being told that "headphones make you sing flat". I thought this was unlikely, and asked around, and this was apparently something everybody knew was true, that headphones make you sing flat. Obviously this isn't true, but why did they believe this?

Last edited by squeegee; 07-10-2011 at 01:30 AM.
#22
Old 07-10-2011, 01:48 AM
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Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
This seems like a good place to ask about something related to singing and headphones -- I remember back when I was a teen (late 70s) asking a singer why he practiced using a speaker playing his backing music instead of headphones, and being told that "headphones make you sing flat". I thought this was unlikely, and asked around, and this was apparently something everybody knew was true, that headphones make you sing flat. Obviously this isn't true, but why did they believe this?
It's not true, but back then any sort of reverb or echo was either expensive, crappy, unrealistic or all three. When I started recording music back in the late 70s, the technology we had was limited to tape echo units (literally a bin filled with a loop of tape and multiple play/record heads), spring reverbs or the echo chamber in the basement with a speaker at one end and a microphone at the other. So adding a little bit of echo to the feed for the singer's headphones wasn't usually an option. If you can hear your own voice reflected off the walls, you'll tend to sing more expressively - maybe that is what they meant by "flat".

Now, digital echo/reverb units are cheap, and a good digital board will have one for every channel, and it's easy to add ambiance to the singer's feed.
#23
Old 07-15-2011, 09:22 PM
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Gaffa:

Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted to know, particularly the part about how they can harmonize with all the noise and "distraction" of playing going on. They are talented indeed not only to do it but do it all together. One of the things I like most about this DVD is how thoroughly involved the audience is by the performance: everything from young girls on dad's shoulders to grandma clapping and singing along with gusto. A professional has unbelievable power over an audience.

Roadie Note:

In Shania's Grant Park DVD (which was edited from a national TV special, I think), a stage hand dressed in black hustles out to the semi-darkened stage to grab the stool Shania has used for her last song, as she addresses the outdoor audience (of 50K) prior to the next song. In semi-darkness, he races to move the stool up 3 or 4 stairs for one of the other performers to use in the coming song--TRIPS on a stair, and crashes to the stage with a loud grunt. You can hear it clearly in the backgroud as Shania speaks if you listen closely, and you can see him start to go (they edited the DVD to remove the entire pratfall, I think). He recovers and places the stool properly. Shania doesn't miss a beat or turn her head to see what happened.
#24
Old 07-15-2011, 11:17 PM
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What a fascinating thread. I knew about IEMs from others who play on big stages, but I never had a group which wanted to buy a system. For most of us clubbers/grinders, our own monitors plus (one hopes) a send from FOH works fine, with (low-ish) stage volume, but I know singers in particular can get picky. I just never knew (or cared!) what they were picky about, since they never could seem to articulate what it was they wanted.

Quite an education, this thread.

It might be worth saying in-ear monitors are not the same as the big over-ear cupped headphones you see people in 'We Are The World' using -- you don't usually see IEMs. I'd bet every one of the acts on SNL or a late-night show uses the true in-ear monitors. I'd sure want my own volume control, so as to not have my tympanum blown out by some "sound" guy/gal. And a hard limiter.

Last edited by Jaledin; 07-15-2011 at 11:19 PM.
#25
Old 07-15-2011, 11:24 PM
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FWIW, though, lots of keyboardists, including me, carry some cheapo ear-buds in case our personal monitor + send driven through our personal mixer blows -- just jam one in the ear and you can control your own volume *and* be able to hear what you're playing. I've heard the horror stories of people who can't hear themselves while playing a set, but it doesn't work with improvised music, unless you're a savant or something. One ear in, and nobody can even see the difference from FOH (not that anyone's looking at the keys anyone, unless they make some major clams).

Last edited by Jaledin; 07-15-2011 at 11:25 PM.
#26
Old 07-15-2011, 11:32 PM
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Originally Posted by digs View Post
So why did you end up letting Phil lead the band? And you didn't make him perform in costume like before... And you even let him sing!

jk!
That was my visual, too.
#27
Old 07-15-2011, 11:36 PM
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I vote that Gaffa <gaffer? > hasn't started an 'Ask the Roadie' thread, that s/he do so asap. This is interesting as hell.
#28
Old 07-16-2011, 03:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Taomist View Post
I vote that Gaffa <gaffer? > hasn't started an 'Ask the Roadie' thread, that s/he do so asap. This is interesting as hell.
There are probably more qualified people.

I started doing sound when I was 15, but that was 35 years ago. Concert sound, recording studios, etc. But I discovered that I didn't want to spend time on the road and moved away from it, getting into video instead. I still keep my hand in, reading the trade magazines like Mix and EQ, and hang with sound engineer friends, and occasionally mix concerts.

But I like that I can come in, shoot a concert with 3 cameras with the equipment that I can carry in the back seat of a car, or even a backpack, rather than humping speaker cabinets and amp racks around.

At this point, I'm more of a dilettante in the field.
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