Bands everywhere, in churches and on the road, are using in-ear monitors while they perform. It’s simple: everyone in the band has a metronome click in your ‘headphones’ to keep the tempo steady (we’ll get into what exactly ‘in-ear’ monitors are in just a second). If everyone plays to the same tempo, they will sound more professional and tighter- MUCH tighter. Here’s the thing- some band guys might say something like this:
“man, I really hate playing to a click because it loses the feel of the song…”
I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of music sounds better when played at a consistent, pre-defined tempo. There are occasions for speeding up or slowing down, but those instances are even easier to play when you have a click (speeding up or slowing down) in your ears to keep everyone together. There is a key difference between any touring band that does the same set every gig and a worship band in a church every week. The touring band does the same set over and over– and they can get extremely tight with or without a click. A worship band, on the other hand, is very similar to a cover band that plays a new set of songs every single set. I’ve heard some folks gripe about how church music is too simple or too easy to play. There’s a reason for that. A few reasons actually… but we will focus on the playability aspect for this post. Most church bands are filled with volunteer players and singers. They don’t do this for a living. They have families, jobs and hobbies that they’d rather be spending time on during the week. Therefore, church music has an inherent need to be simple (it also needs to be singable so that the congregation can participate, but that’s for another post). Want to know how to make it even easier for you band to play and sing? Simply using a click and a vocal cue stem will make your band several magnitudes better almost immediately. It’s like cheating- only it’s not. It’s being smarter.
I can say all this because I used to tour with my rock band, Half Past Forever (our record is still on Amazon, btw), and I’ve also spent many years leading worship and playing in worship bands of pretty much every type and genre- rock, pop, traditional- you name it. The use of in-ears, clicks and stems transcends pretty much all genres and eras. So, let’s get into what these terms mean, shall we?
In their simplest form, in-ear monitors are ear-buds just like the ones that come with your MP3 player. The phrase “you get what you pay for” applies heavily here. Cheap ear buds will never sound as good as a quality set that a touring musician might be using.
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started. Just grab whatever you have lying around and get going. Easy. As you spend more time and want to invest in a better experience, check out something like the Westone UM-1 (now called the UM Pro 10). They are fairly inexpensive and do a great job. I personally used a pair for 18 months while I was saving for my custom “molds.”
What are molds, you say? Professional in-ear monitors are custom molded to the individual musician. You have to schedule a trip to your local audiologist to have them put some rubbery ooze in your ears to create the “impressions” of you ear shape and canal. You then ship these to the company crafting the actual in-ear monitors. There are tons of companies doing this. I used a Nashville-based company called Fidelity Custom Earphones. They gave me amazing customer service and the build quality is top-shelf.
My current set of custom molded in-ear monitors are known as the “Triples” and they cost me, all said, just over $400. I know that sounds like a lot for headphones, but it has been one of the best investments I’ve made in my career as a musician. I also use them for recreational listening and for recording and mixing in the studio. Why are they so great? Fidelity. Massively improved sound imaging and clarity. Fantastic noise isolation.
A click track can take on many forms, but in the simplest form, it is a metronome. That’s it. This simple piece of the equation opens up a massive world of possibilities and options for creating an amazing worship experience . Here are some the biggest benefits:
// Sync video and lighting elements
Ever wanted to start your service with a powerful video sequence that your band could play under and then roll right into the first worship song? With a click, it’s a piece of cake.
// Utilize stems to fill out your sound
You can use pre-recorded guitars, keyboard pads and more to stack with your band’s live sound. This has a profound effect on the live worship experience. Just remember to focus on background elements to use as stems. For example, a rhythm guitar part that doubles your rhythm guitarist is great. A lead guitar part is definitely NOT ok. Use your best judgement.
// Use vocal cues to keep everyone on track.
A vocal cue is a “stem” that only gets fed to the band’s in-ears and provide information about what part of the song is coming up next. Think of it as a band “cruise-control.”
A great metronome to start with is the trusty Boss DB-90. I’ve used this thing for years and it is still the easiest to customize and use- and it has never failed during a performance.
Check back for part 2 where I talk about stems and vocal cues.