In my experience as a worship leader, monitoring is always a sensitive subject. Everybody wants to hear more of themselves, and if you’re not careful, the stage monitor volume soon muddies up the room mix, and nobody can really hear themselves very well. It’s a headache for musicians and sound engineers alike. If you’ve been lucky enough to use in-ear monitors, you know how awesome they are, and they eliminate lots of problems.
Now, the churches where I lead worship don’t have huge budgets for an Aviom system or something like that, but we have figured out a way to use in-ear monitors on a very, VERY modest budget.
Before we start, I should point out the two biggest flaws in this system:
- It’s not wireless
- You can’t get an individual mix for each musician (though you can get 4 individual mixes)
But here are some reasons that it’s great:
- It’s cheap. Really cheap. This is the biggest draw by far. Literally – under $200 and you’re set.
- You can use it as a hybrid system, meaning you can have traditional wedge monitors and in-ear monitors.
Equipment you’ll need:
- A mixer with at least four aux (monitor) mixes. I’m assuming you probably have this already. If not, you probably don’t need this type of a setup anyway.
- A 4-channel headphone amp. We use this Behringer Powerplay Pro amp. It costs $120 new, but you can get it used for much less.
- Heaphone extension cables. As many cables as musicians. I’d shoot for 20 ft cables just to be safe.
- 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch adapters, in case your extension cables have a 1/4 female end on them.
- Set up your headphone amp at the back of the stage, and run each aux mix (these are your monitor mixes from the board) into the auxiliary inputs for each channel on the headphone amp. If you’re running a 4-channel headphone amp, you can support 4 monitor mixes. The Behringer model I linked to above gives you 3 individual headphone outputs per channel, so a total of 12 musicians chan share 4 monitor mixes (but you can’t have more than 3 musicians on one mix). If you want to go all in-ears, you’re done. Just have your musicians plug their headphones into whatever channel they want to use for monitoring.
- For a hybrid system, you have a couple options. You can take one of the outputs from any of the channels on the headphone amp and run that to your wedges. Or, you can take one of your aux sends and run that to your wedges, and the other three (or however many) to your headphone amp.
We have multiple churches using the same facility, and we rent the place out often, so we wanted a very flexible system. I’ll walk through what we do with each monitor mix, and how we’re planning to use it.
- Aux (monitor) mix 1: This goes straight to two wedges on the font of the stage. For groups that don’t want (or don’t know how) to use the in-ear system, they just monitor with mix 1 and they’re all set. If we have vocalists that don’t want to use the in-ears, they can listen to the wedges.
- Aux (monitor) mix 2: This feeds the first in-ear mix. We’re using it mainly for a vocalist mix, and for the lead. We can have 3 musicians on this mix.
- Aux (monitor) mix 3: This is the 2nd in-ear mix. Used for keys and guitars. Three musicians max on this mix.
- Aux (monitor) mix 4: This feeds the 3rd in-ear mix, and the back set of wedges. This is a rhythm section mix – the drummer and bass player are on this one. We’re using wedges and in-ears here because we want the drummer to have a wedge and an in-ear mix. We use V-Drums, so moving some air with a big speaker is a good thing, but having the mix in the drummer’s ear is also helpful. We can do both.
We can control the levels of the wedges via the power amp. If everybody’s using in-ears, we can just turn them off completely and have minimal stage volume, or turn them on to accomodate those who don’t want to use the in-ears.
You might want to make sure to invest in some kind of limiter on your aux mixes. The danger in this system is there is nothing to keep a really loud sound from blowing out people’s eardrums.