Before you spend thousands of dollars on wireless monitors or digital personal mixers, check out this ultra-cheap but reliable solution for worship band in-ear monitors.
Advantages of in-ear monitoring for worship bands
In-ear monitoring for bands has been around for a few decades now. This type of monitoring has several advantages. Musicians can hear themselves much better, making it easier to sing or play one’s instrument with excellence. Stage noise is drastically reduced, making it much easier for the sound guy to produce a clean mix. In-ears allow bands to play with a click track without the audience hearing an annoying metronome sound. Of all of the advantages of using in-ear monitoring, using a click track is by far the greatest advantage offered by this technology. When the band plays in perfect time together with a click track, they can begin to utilize backing tracks that bring the musical experience to a whole new level. Almost all new worship songs produced today rely heavily on backing tracks. Just listen to the latest albums by Hillsong United, Elevation Worship, and Red Rocks Worship. Backing tracks allow worship bands at small to mid-sized church utilize these same sounds. You can download these tracks at multitracks.com or loopcommunity.com. Using software like Ableton Live to run your click and backing tracks also gives worship bands the capability to automate their lighting and video systems.
I share all of these advantages to using in-ear monitors to give you a glimpse of the possibilities they provide for improving your worship ministry. You do not need to be a professional musician or have a multi-million dollar church budget to get started with in-ear monitoring. In my opinion, in-ear monitoring can help the struggling worship band on a tight budget make drastic improvements to their sound without breaking the bank. Here are three options for building a wireless in-ear monitor system for your church. This guide assumes you already have the basics of a sound system such as loudspeakers for your congregation and at least a 16-channel mixer. In this example, I am going to use the Behringer X32 to demonstrate in-ear monitor setup. This board has dominated the market of affordable digital boards the past few years and is a popular choice for smaller churches on a budget.
Option #1 - Headphone Amp
Low Budget (<$500)
It is the most affordable in-ear monitor setup. It’s important to note that it is NOT wireless. The downside is your musicians can only move around on stage as far as the headphone extension cable will allow them. The upside is you never need to worry about batteries and wireless packs. Here is how this setup works.
Route your monitor mixes from the mix bus or auxiliary outputs on your mixer to the stage. This will look different depending on how you route signals to the stage from your soundboard. For some people, this may be the most tricky part of this setup. In some cases, you made need a separate snake or adaptors to convert your cables to the proper type. For example, I would need to convert the XLR outputs of the X32 to a quarter inch connection so I can connect my mix bus outputs to the headphone amp I will show you in a few minutes. It would cost me about $100 for an eight channel ¼” snake and the adaptors to plug into the Mixbus outputs on the X32. Or I could put my monitor mixes from the ¼” auxiliary outputs on the back of the X32.
Once those signals are on the stage, find a location for a headphone amp. I recommend a headphone amp like the Behringer HA8000. It is only $150 and has eight channels, which will allow up to 8 separate monitor mixes from your front of house board.
To get the signal from your musicians to their in-ear headphones, you will need some long headphone extension cables. Twenty-five-foot extension cables should work for most stages. If your band was using the X32 or a similar digital board, each musician could control their monitor mix with the X32 app.
That completes this first setup for in-ear monitoring for your worship band. It is by far the least expensive, but it does require a bit more cabling work. It also requires that your mixer has as many outputs for monitors as you would need for individual mixes. If you only have 2 or 4 auxiliary sends, the same setup would work, but your musicians would not be able to have individual mixes.
Option #2 - Digital Personal Mixer
Mid-range Budget ($1500-$3000)
Thanks to the drop in the price of digital mixing technology, Digital Personal Mixers have become an attractive solution for worship band in-ear monitors. Here’s how the concept works. From the digital board like the X32, you can send a digital signal containing 16 channels of your band over a single networking cable to Digital Personal Mixers on stage. These personal mixers can be daisy chained with the network cable and every musician with his or own mixer can create a unique mix. These personal mixers are easy for anyone to use.
While the setup of this monitoring system is simple and it allows for unlimited personal mixes, it does have a few downsides. First, the cost may be prohibitive for many churches. These digital mixers cost $300 each, totaling up to $1500-$2000 for your average five to seven person worship band. Another downside is the fact your musicians are tethered to these personal mixers with a headphone cable, unless if you spend the extra money for some wireless in-ear transmitters, you can connect to these personal mixers. For most band members, being tethered is not a problem. But it can be a pain for worship leaders and vocalists. The other downside is you have additional gear on stage. I cannot stand the look of digital personal mixers on stage, especially if they are not hidden.
While digital personal mixers have a few advantages, this is probably my least favorite setup. If you were to purchase these, I would recommend using them for your drummer and keyboardist. Those musicians do not move around the stage, and it is easy to hide the personal mixer somewhere behind their instrument. If I had to choose between Digital Personal Mixers and the budget solution of a Headphone Amplifier, I would definitely choose the headphone amp. I would much rather control my monitor mix wirelessly with my phone than with a digital personal mixer.
Option #3 - Wireless In-Ear Monitor Systems
High Budget - ($4000-$5000)
This setup is my favorite form of in-ear monitoring. Unfortunately, it also costs the most. Here is how it works.
If you are using a soundboard like the X32, setting up wireless in-ear monitors is simple. First, find a wireless in-ear monitor system you will use. You can expect to pay anywhere between five to six hundred dollars per individual monitor mix. One way to save money is to put two separate mixes on a stereo wireless system. You would buy two wireless receivers for every transmitter. The transmitter can take two channels of audio from your mixer. Usually, this is to give your musician a stereo mix. That is unnecessary for worship band musicians. What you can do is send the left channel to one receiver and the right channel to the other receiver. Make sure those receivers are in mono mode and panned to either left or right depending on which mix that musician needs to hear. You’ll save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by doing this.
Your band members can control their mixes by using your sound board’s monitor app on their mobile device. They are also free to move about the stage without being tethered to a headphone extension cable or digital personal mixers. There are a couple of downsides to using wireless monitors. First, you must worry about having fresh batteries. I recommend finding some reliable rechargeable batteries and replacing them every other year. The second downside is wireless interference and signal drops. If your system is not setup properly or it is cheap, there is a good chance you will experience wireless issues. If you are going the wireless monitor route, spend the money for proper gear and a professional install.
I hope this gives you some clear direction and ideas for building an in-ear monitor system for your worship band. This setup will look different for all churches. I think you’ll see that any band can have in-ear monitoring even on a small budget. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.