It can be argued that all musicians utilize an in-ear monitoring (IEM) system in one form or another. In fact, IEM systems are everywhere in the world of music, from musicians to most recording studios and studios of all types.
Yes, IEMs are incredibly beneficial to modern music, allowing musicians to hear their recorded sounds without distortion, and by doing so, better focus on their performance.
But many of us do not use an in-ear monitoring system but rather use headphones, headphones with inline monitors, or microphones in various situations. But in many cases, it is unnecessary to use an in-ear monitor, especially in the professional realm.
For example, when playing on a festival stage or in a rock club, you do not want the audience to hear your feet tapping, nor do you want the band members to hear you bobbing your head or playing air guitar.
Therefore, using ear monitors in these places can be a waste of your time and money.
Therefore, the best option, at least in my mind, is to leave your in-ear monitors in the studio and get rid of your headphones when you perform in a live setting.
I’ll outline below the benefits of leaving in-ear monitors in the studio and letting the audience and band members hear your track. This article is meant to help musicians make better decisions when performing in a live setting than getting caught up in distractions.
In-ear monitoring system vs. headphones vs. inline monitors
In the world of professional musicians, there are three categories of in-ear monitors:
- IEMs with inline monitors
- Inline monitors
Because IEMs are fairly easy to find and use in various genres, it is possible to see them utilized by so many musicians, at least in the more progressive music scene.
However, IEMs and inline monitors are usually very similar in use and quality.
The main difference between the three is that IEMs typically place the sound source into the ear canal, much like headphones.
Inline monitors have a speaker in the earplug, but this is usually small to remain hidden within the ear and keep the bass guitar or drums from drowning the lower frequencies.
IEMs typically cost a bit more than the inline monitors, as they are larger in size and need to fit within the wearer’s ear canal.
Conversely, inline monitors can sometimes fit within the ear canal more easily, which is another reason they are used more frequently.
Both IEMs and inline monitors provide similar quality but a slight bias towards IEMs.
Inline monitors are typically used by musicians in smaller, less expensive studios, while IEMs are used by musicians in larger, more expensive studios, where space is at a premium.
Inline monitors vs. headphones
In-ear monitors are far less commonly used than headphones.
While in-ear monitors are a perfect tool for improving your mixes’ quality, a good pair of headphones is a better tool to make the mix.
In-ear monitors create too much of a focus on the sound source in your ear.
In most situations, your focus should be on the performance of your instruments, as well as the sound coming from the speakers.
By wearing a pair of high-quality headphones, it is possible to focus on only your instruments’ performance, not the quality of your mix.
In fact, using headphones makes it possible to spend more time learning your instrument and practicing your craft. This enhances your playing and allows you to work more quickly and efficiently, which leads to a better, more concentrated performance.
Where to use in-ear monitors?
While it is possible to find quality in-ear monitors, it is almost impossible to find a high-quality headphones pair.
Therefore, when using in-ear monitors, you will most likely have to sacrifice the pair of headphones’ sound quality to achieve quality in-ear monitors.
If you are interested in using inline monitors with your in-ear monitors, I would suggest avoiding studio monitors and more likely going for earbuds, which are a bit more affordable.
Many people say it is bad to wear headphones while playing drums, but the truth is it depends on the style of music you play. If you play rock or heavy metal, you may find in-ear monitors a necessary piece of kit.
However, many players prefer to play pop music, and they do not wear ear monitors. However, if you are a pop or rock drummer, it may not be a bad idea to use them for the entire session.
You may need to be more vocal when you chat with the other band members.
Many drummers are hesitant about the effectiveness of in-ear monitors due to the lack of visual cues. When I talk to them about it, they tell me it doesn’t matter or do not think it is necessary.