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Tricks for Singers Using In-Ear Monitors

As a singer, are there any special tricks you should know about when using in-ear monitors?

shutterstock_144686570_zps495b10daI’m so glad you asked. I’ve been waiting to talk about mic techniques. But before we go there, we need to talk about free space and what happens when you sing without using in-ears.

Free space is the environment between your ears and a speaker. And lots of strange things happen in this space. There are refractions. Absorptions. Reflections. Sound interacts with things and people and hats. Hats are the worst. Cowboy hats especially. They’re like a giant parabolic reflecting dish—changing the dynamics of what you actually hear. And so far, I’m only talking about just 1 speaker. But on a stage, you are surrounded by speakers; not just your floor wedges but the side-fills and even the PA system. Whenever you move and where ever you go, you introduce new variables into the free space and the combination of all these factors affects what you are able to hear. Some frequencies may be boosted. Some may be canceled. It is entirely unknown. Sound is dynamic indeed. And all of these variables get picked up by your vocal microphone as well.

So by eliminating the floor wedges in front of you and by shifting the speakers into your head, you negate the free space. The distance from speaker to ear becomes null and as such, external environmental variables become zero. Not only that, your mic is far less likely to pick up external noise. Without floor wedges, your mic will only pick up the room and the rest of the stage noise. As an important side note, the more quiet your stage becomes, the more control you have over every aspect. A completely quiet stage can actually feel like a recording studio. Tell that to your band mates so that everyone can experience that level of control.

Back to your ears. So you’ve eliminated the free space but you’ve introduced a few new variables. 1) There’s that slight feeling of disassociation, of being sealed up. You’ll get over that. 2) You’re hearing yourself with a clarity that you’ve never experienced before. This makes a lot of singers nervous. And a normal response is to get timid or to sing with less strength. Or to compensate for the new loudness in your head by moving the mic farther away from your mouth. Or by relying on your engineer to constantly adjust your vocal levels. But those are the wrong solutions.


Here’s what I need you to do in your next practice session. Put your lips right on the mic and hold it parallel to the ground. Sing until you have a good feel for the sound dynamics and then rotate the mic to a 45 degree angle with your lips still right up on the mic. Get comfortable with that and hear the difference. Then move the mic down perpendicular with the ground. You’ll notice a significant difference between the 3 positions.

Now do the same thing but this time, hold the mic 1 inch away from your mouth. Hear that difference? Now do the exercise one last time but this time have the mic 2” away.

Any one of those 9 positions is within the zone. But just as no 2 sets of ears are the same, no mouth is the same either. You have to find what works best for you. You have to find your sweet spot.

And once you do, you’ll experience a completely different level of control and confidence. That will lead to you singing with much more ease and with much less strain. This confidence is what leads to less vocal fatigue. And when you hear the difference in your performance and your sound, understand that everyone else will hear that as well. It goes without saying but the cleaner the sound is in your mic, the better you will sound to the room through the PA. Plus, you will have a constant level—a baseline—that your engineer will be able to depend on and work with. Your output won’t fluctuate and when it does, it will be your choice based on how you are controlling the mic.


On last note. Due to the proximity effect, there will be more low-end as a mic gets closer to its source. Make sure that you are using a high pass filter with a rigid cut at around 125 or 100 Hz on the console. Get rid of that very low-end in your ears. You don’t need to hear that.

This installation of the Ultimate Ears University was developed over a series of interviews with Jason Batuyong, the monitor engineer for the live studio show of The X-Factor USA. Jason is an expert in the field and to the best of my knowledge, the first and only person on the Internet to discuss mic techniques as they relate to in-ear monitors. Thank you Jason.

If you have touring questions about sound or wireless, email The In-Ear Guy, at

printed with permission from the UE University blog


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