Playing with in-ears, click tracks, and backing tracks can take a little getting used to. In some cases, there is a little more stability to what the musician hears. Sometimes that stability can be a little hard to deal with, as it requires a commitment to precision that is not present on many worship teams. The transition from stage wedges to in-ears is not always the easiest. Below are 3 tips that will help transition any musician or singer to the world of in-ears.
1. Practice with a metronome
One of the hardest things for many musicians to master when it comes to in-ears is the click track. If you are a seasoned musician and have practiced a lot in your life, then a click is pretty much standard. But for many church musicians, a metronome is a foreign piece of musical equipment. Any time you get a chance to practice with a metronome you will increase your playing ability. When I was young and played in the school band our director would blast the metronome over a loudspeaker or bang his baton on a metal music stand to help keep us in time. The reason is that keeping time is a vital part of musicianship. The more you do it, the more inherent it becomes. Bands that transition from stage wedges to in-ears and click tracks will almost always be immediately tighter as a unit. It is the way it is.
What can be a challenge for those doing this for the first time is that it is very enticing to pay too close attention to the click. The results can be disastrous, as it is very hard to stay in time if you focus just on the track. The monotony of the click will confuse where you are in the song, and cause you to miss parts and get off. It is almost paradoxical. The trick is to be able to use the click while listening to the rest of the music. The best way to learn how to do this is to practice with it. Learn to let the click fade into the background as a guide, but not the focus of your playing. Eventually, it will feel natural.
2. Practice with the original recording on headphones
This is very much related to the first point. While you may be used to practicing with the original recordings of your song (or at least you should be), there is a different feel altogether when playing with in-ears. The very first times you do it will feel extraordinarily isolating. There are tricks you can do to feel less isolated, but for the most part it is different than paying with your ears exposed to all the ambient noises around you. Practicing with headphones will help recreate that isolation to an extent. Again, this is going to be a process and this is just one way to help alleviate the shock of switching to such a radically different approach to stage monitoring.
3. Use one in-ear to start, but commit to moving to two!
This is something that I say very cautiously. For one, the mix achieved in one ear is going to be more muddled than what can be achieved with two. One of the things I always have to help newbies to in-ears accomplish is a good mix. Including enough of the vital parts without muddling the little bitty speakers in your ear can be a challenge. That is made worse by using one. (Also, if you have one in-ear out and hanging down you will often bleed the click track out to the congregation…never a good thing).
But what you loose in clarity, you make up for in ambiance. While tip number 2 above helps you get used to the isolation, this will eliminate it at first as you get used to your new surroundings. I recommend just a couple of sessions this way if you are struggling, but then committing to using both in-ears as soon as possible. You will have a better experience panning certain instruments to the right and left to help differentiate them and your personal mix will be much better.
Following these tips will really help, but know it will take practice and experience, just like everything else we do. Getting used to the experience can be a struggle for some, but it is worth it in so many ways.