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Getting the most out of your in-ear mix

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I am so glad that my days of wedge monitors are gone.  In-Ear monitors make my life so much easier – not to mention making my mix that much better.  To be honest with you, though…it wasn’t always that way.  Are you new to in-ears?  Have you been using them for three shades of forever and still can’t get a good mix?  Hopefully, this article is for you.

The first thing I do on my mix at a sound check is turn everything…and I mean everything (ok…except for FOH) all the way down.  I’ll have the drummer give me a traditional beat with kick, snare and hi-hat.  The kick and snare, I will fine tune to about 2/3rds of the way up.  The hi-hat may vary between 50%-75% depending on the player and microphone/trigger used.

Next, I have my keys start pounding away.  I’ll mix them up to somewhere near 2/3rds max volume.  Next, I’ll throw in my acoustic guitar into the mix.  I’ll make sure that I can easily hear both – even if we are both at our personal max volumes.

Then, I’ll move my lead guitarist up.  I’ll let him just shred on something for a while – and mix him so that he is slightly above the drums.  Ditto with the bass.  Now, you are pretty much done with the instruments.  You can fine tune the mix however you’d like now that you have a decent base mix.

Next, mix in your vocals to taste.  Don’t let your backup vocals overpower your vocals – even at their strongest. At the same time, don’t keep them too low.  There have bee plenty of times that I can get into a whole new grove on a great sounding harmony.  You tend to loose a natural element of your performance when you aren’t feeling and hearing all parts.

Finally – most personal mixers give you options for panning different “voices”.  I usually mix my stuff by stage location.  My lead guitarist is usually to my right – so I will slightly pan him over to the right.  Ditto with all other instruments expect drums.   This is especially important with vocal mics.  When everyone gets talking on stage – it is hard to tell where it is coming from.  The only bad quality about in-ears is the inability to hear ambient sound.  You loose the ability to determine which direction sounds on stage are coming from.  Panning these  mics makes it easier to know who to communicate with.

One last thing on the topic of ambient noise loss:  I love it when the audience is engaged in singing.  If you are like me and need to hear that type of feedback for the audience – you’ll have a couple of different options:

  1. “Kick an ‘ear out”:  This is one of the most common methods.  When the mood hits – and the crowd is going…take one of your in-ears out and hear that sweet feedback!  The downside is that, once you get it out of your ear, it is hard to put it back in.
  2. Use an ambient microphone:  Have your FOH hook up a microphone pointed towards the audience.  Set it up on a separate channel on your personal mixer.  When you need to hear the audience – you have them at your fingertips.
  3. Buy a personal mixer with an ambient mic as an option.: Some personal mixers come with a separate control for ambient room noise.  They are decent for stage communication – but they lack in the area of audience participation.

As far as what in-ears to choose – that’s all up to your preference.  We all like different things.  Just don’t expect to buy a cheap pair of iPod ear buds and expect miracles.  For me, my choice are Westone dual-drivers.  They will set you back a coupe of bills..but well worth it for the sound, comfort, and noise isolation.

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