In Ear Monitors For Worship: Yay or Nay?

Ok so it’s time to get a bit technical! In ear monitors for worship? It’s the church worship team’s ‘Apple Vs Android’, ‘Edward vs Jacob’ or ‘Mcfly vs Busted’ debate.

About a year ago our church worship team took the plunge and went all digital, and opted solely for in-ear monitors for all the worship team.

So i’m going to make a confession here. I was sceptical! The other worship leaders and techies knew I was unsure, and I have since had to plead for forgiveness for my cynicism!!

I had numerous worries. I was nervous about going all wireless, being in the hands of a battery pack or the sound guy, but most importantly I was worried about disconnected from the congregation, and the band.

A year on? All worries gone. (Actually it only took about a week!)

Ok, so let’s just circle back to the beginning for a second. Why the attraction to in ears anyway? Well simply put, they are by far and above the best form of on stage monitoring around nowadays, it’s as simple as that. They eradicate the need for huge foldback monitors which can muddy and overwhelm the front of house mix. And they enable each musician to be fully in control of what they need to hear.

Yet just because they’re common practice in big venues, etc, that certainly doesn’t equate to every church needing them. So after a year of using them week in week out as a whole worship team, I thought I’d give you our pros and cons.

A bit of background: Our church is fairly new, planted about 4 years ago, we’re a fairly small set up, meeting in a school hall where we ship gear in and out each week, and tend to have about 200 in the congregation on any given Sunday. We have about 20 people on the worship team, who rotate (usually 2 vox, acoustic, electric, keys, bass & drums each Sunday). The band for Sunday practice in a recording studio midweek.

Yay: The Pros

– The sound quality from the front of house has skyrocketed. Much more clarity due to having no fold back speakers to muddy the sound.

– Using in ears has enabled us to use a click track, which we use for pretty much every song (all band members have this in their ear)

– Being able to use a click has meant the musicianship has significantly improved, especially in terms of song arrangements.

– Each band member can have their own in ear mix, controllable with an iPad/phone on their music stand (Using the Behringer X-Air desk)

– Much more worthwhile practice times. Using the in ears with a digital desk means when practicing you can save settings and it sounds pretty much as it will on Sunday.

– Quieter practice times! Rehearsing in someone’s front room? Just plug everything straight in. Your neighbours will love you. (Well, other than Kev hitting those cymbals like it’s 1985.)

– Opportunity for an MD (musical director). A lot of churches are going down the route of an MD, which is basically a member of the band, (generally not the worship leader or a singer) will oversee the musical side of things, rather than reliant only on the worship leader’s signals. This mostly looks like the MD having a mic which only the band can hear, with reminders through the ear approaching different sections, or to lead through a time of spontaneity. I don’t think this is something for every context, but in-ear monitors do make it possible.

Nay: The Cons

– Cost. Of course there’s a bit of a cost involved. The digital desk (it is possible with an analogue desk but you will likely be restricted with the number of Aux outputs), in ear packs (wired are much cheaper than wireless mind you), and obviously headphones, for us band members need to provide their own. (A decent pair ranges from £30 to £1,000’s. I don’t recommend the latter as your first pair!!)

– It can create a barrier between band and congregation. Obviously if you’re putting something in your ears that blocks out the surrounding noise there will be a natural barrier between you and the rest of the room, that’s a no-brainer. This one is easily solved though, a simple ambient mic or 2 pointed at or above the congregation will bring you right back into the room, and provide a nice big of reverb for your mix too. I would say this is a necessity. You can’t lead people in worship if you’re clueless as to whether they’re actually singing or not.

– It takes a bit of getting used to. You have to learn how to mix your in ears, for some people that’ll come naturally, for others it will take a few weeks/months to get used to it.

Finally

One final thing I will say is that it is so important to know your context.

Jonny Patton mentioned this in his blog about Leading Worship (have a read here), it’s so essential that you’re aware of where you are. For example, if church for you is 5 people in someone’s living room, I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say it, you don’t need in ears!

Our decision to use in ears (or any other decision for that matter) should never be about trying to emulate Bethel, Hillsong or Robbie Williams, it should be wholly based on what beat serves our congregation.

For us it has genuinely been a huge blessing, because the sound in the school hall with fold back cabs used to be an absolute nightmare, would be constantly feeding back, too loud, and you could never hear everyone. In ear monitors solved that instantly.

It has also been received so well by the worship team as a whole that it has definitely pushed many people on to be even better musicians and lead worshippers (possibly in some cases simply because they can actually hear themselves!)

Have you made the switch to IEM’s, or are you contemplating it? Comment below and let us know below how it went, or what you’re thoughts are on it all

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