I haven’t tried in-ears yet but I’ve been using custom musician earplugs. I find that I take them out constantly during performances because I fear I won’t be singing on key or that I’ll miss the harmonies. Any suggestions?
Hey there —
You are most likely taking your custom plugs out because your stage volume is louder than your monitor volume. I find that earplugs help me hear better since they effectively turn down all the noise and let my monitor mix cut through. But that only works when the monitor mix is louder than the surrounding instrumentation. Another way to say this is that the real problem isn’t your plugs or your mix or your vocals; the stage is just too d*mn loud. You have to deal with that first. To get a few tips on how to grapple with lowering your stage volume, please refer to the previous post about stage noise.
You have a few options and it is possible to bring your stage levels down. But if you and your bandmates can’t agree on how to actually do that, then you’ll need to consider in-ear monitors as your only solution. They’ll bring everything down by -26db and that is an easy level to mix on top of. Say the stage volume stays extremely loud — let’s say it hovers at 115db. With custom monitors in place, it would be only 89db to your ears. So you’ll only need to get your vocal mix up to 92db to be twice as loud as the music. And it would be just as easy to get louder than that.
But since you brought up custom musician earplugs, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk more about them. They are pretty fascinating and they provide great solutions to a lot of common problems — especially for all of us in the music business!
Let’s start off by asking a really simple question. Why don’t more people in our industry use earplugs? We all work around dangerously loud music. It seems pretty silly that we don’t protect ourselves. But I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Well, that is I was, until I learned more about musician earplugs.
I used to hate using earplugs. They drove me crazy. Things sounded funny. And my voice would echo in my own head something awful. It was just a better experience for me to go au naturel.
I later learned that there was a scientific reason that I didn’t like how regular plugs sounded. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t making things up. They really do sound bad. And since we all work in and around music, it’s safe to say that we, as a group, care about how things sound. For the most part, we tend to avoid things that sound lousy. So it’s no wonder that many of us aren’t crazy about foamies.
Non vented solid earplugs disproportionally attenuate -10db to -20db of high frequencies with the drop beginning around the 2k mark. This means that regular plugs only block the mids and highs and that they specifically muffle the vocal range. Of course things sound muddy with standard plugs. All you’re catching is unadulterated low-end and mixed with attenuated mids and highs. Who would ever purposely set their EQ like that? Not only that, but when an ear plug sits on the outer surfaces of the canal, you get that “hollow barrel echo” sound. It’s known as the occlusion effect. The only way to make that stop is to have your plug deeply seal the bony portion of the ear canal and to do this, the ear plug has to seat into your ear past the second bend.
Here’s the magic of musician earplugs. They stop the occlusion effect and they provide flat response attenuation. They take all the frequencies down the same level; think of it like just turning life’s master volume down. They work because they are based on a custom mold of your ear and all sound is passed through an interchangeable filter that either cuts -9db, -15db or -25db depending on your needs. So if and when you find yourself in a 115db situation and if you own -15db custom plugs, pop them in and you’re instantly in a room that’s only 100db. It’s that simple. They are comfortable. They are effective. And they are the solution that we’ve all been looking for. Unless of course, your stage is louder than your monitors.