By Matt Lowe
Free Chapel OC is a 4,000 plus member church that sits on the corner of Jamboree and McGaw in Irvine, CA. This is not your typical church building; we have converted an industrial office space into a full house of worship. The sanctuary, located on the 2nd floor, is a rectangular box measuring 153 feet wide with a depth of 101 feet. Our stage mimics the room with a width of 99 feet and a depth of 30 feet. Our ceilings are 16 feet high and we have 12 I-Beams that are 1.5 feet squared throughout the room. As you can imagine, this room can be a challenge for audio.
When the church began eight years ago, wedges were used for the entire band. That didn’t last long. After about a year we started looking for options to upgrade the audio gear. Working with a limited budget I knew in-ear monitors would need to be a priority to enhance our worship experience. Our goal at Free Chapel is to maintain a current, inviting and engaging atmosphere of worship. The Free Chapel worship team consisted of about 15 musicians and vocalists, and there wasn’t a huge need for customs at the time. However, as the team grew, the maintenance of the universal-fit monitors became a cost issue. At that time, most universals didn’t have replaceable cables, so each time they would break and wear down we would need to buy a brand new set.
In 2011, I decided to research custom in-ear monitors. I started with Ultimate Ears Pro because of the convenience of their location and their reputation among professionals. The process for obtaining custom in-ear monitors is fairly easy. Our first step was to find a local audiologist and make an appointment to get our impressions made. At the appointment with the audiologist will handed us a hard foam piece to bite down on to keep the ear canals open. Then they put a small soft foam piece in our ears with a string attached to it. Next comes the cold part – silicon was squeezed into our ears in a putty form. Once the putty was in, the audiologist had us sit for about two minutes while the silicon hardened. After this process was complete, we mailed our impressions to Ultimate Ears Pro. Normally, you can expect to receive your custom in-ears within one week to two months after impressions are received, depending on the company you choose. With UE Pro, it only takes about 5-7 business days.
When we began to use our customs, there was a slight learning curve. Because we were now using customs the fit was secure and, unlike universals, there was no risk of them falling out of our ears. As a result of this fit, our musicians and vocalists are more isolated and in control of what they hear, but it took a while for them to get used to this.
I encouraged our team to go with customs because each set would be personalized and there would be a sense of ownership. As stated before, with universals we were having to replace sets because of wear and tear or just misuse. Customs, on the other hand, have resolved this issue because the team values their individual sets. Another issue we had prior to in-ears was the stage volume. Once we switched to in-ears we drastically reduced the level on stage.
Now that we’ve been using customs for about four years, there has not only been positive feedback from the team, but I have noticed the effects of using great in-ear monitors as well. They allow the musicians to better hear themselves and each other. The isolation achieved with customs allows vocalists to hear each other, to blend well, and create the harmonies for the best worship experience. It has also allowed our vocalists to be more confident in what they are hearing and singing.
Currently at Free Chapel OC, I am running the monitor mix from our front of house console. There are many options for monitor mixing out there now, but because of our budget in 2008, we chose to run monitors from the front of house console. This year we will be upgrading our audio system and adding a monitor console on stage to handle to needs of the worship team.