What does an earpiece do for a singer? An earpiece offers singers and musicians a custom sound experience that is isolated from the sounds around them, hearing protection for their eardrums, and enhances their performance by hearing exactly how they sound to the audience.
Have you ever wondered why singers and musicians often wear earpieces when performing on stage? Thinking if it was just a design or has something to do with their performance?
If yes, then you are on the right page.
Singers, and even musicians, are often exposed to loud sounds. And it is unavoidable since it is the nature of their work. It is particularly true when performing during huge concerts, where sound must reach everyone in the crowd.
As a solution, singers and musicians typically place an earpiece on one side of their ears. The device essentially helps the user to protect its eardrums from loud sounds while on stage.
But earpieces do not only function that way. It acts as an in-ear sound monitor, provides superior sound quality, reduced vocal strains, and many other things that not only the singer but the audience can benefit from as well.
What is an Earpiece?
An earpiece, also known as an in-ear monitor, is a device that provides singers and musicians with a variety of sound-related perks but mainly provides a direct and clear source of sound on stage as well as to protect their ears from loud sounds.
Additionally, it also enables the user to customize their stage mix and help them hear the metronome or backing tracks.
The First Earpiece
Earpieces were first used way back early 70s. The original in-ears were homemade and were generally just standard earphones with a radio pack attached to them. It was, however, not easily accessible to musicians during those days. And quality-wise, the sound is inferior as well.
To provide a better device, Chris Lindop built in-ear monitors with better sound quality. It was used by Steven Wonder and was efficient enough to provide clear feedback. Still, the sound is not as superior as it must be. Another catch about this earpiece is that it was not created with hearing health in mind such as protecting the singer or musician from loud sounds.
The Start of Modernized In-ears
The need for an efficient earpiece, however, has become more in demand in the following years. It is when in 1995, monitor engineer and sound expert Jerry Harvey created the first dual speaker custom earpiece.
Based on accounts, Harvey was working with Van Halen when the drummer felt that the sound from monitors was hurting his ears and, at the same time, made him difficult to communicate with his other bandmates during live performance. Harvey then tried to build an in-ears that suits what the drummer needs as there was no available device that can efficiently isolate external sounds.
The device worked well that the lead singer of Skid Row, together with his four bandmates, offered Jerry Harvey to build custom earpieces for them. Since then, custom in-ears have become an essential device in the music industry.
What Benefits do Singers Get from It?
Now that you know what an earpiece is for and how it came to being, let’s talk about its benefits to singers as well as musicians.
- Hearing protection. Professional singers and musicians are by nature exposed to loud sounds and music. Such an environment, however, is not healthy for the eardrums. In fact, a study shows that musicians are most likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Still, there is no way to take such an aspect from their work!That is where in-ear monitors help singers and musicians. These devices enable the user to both reduce the sound produced by the loud music while on stage and, at the same time, provide quality and true sound. In-ears are effective at blocking external sounds so rather than suffering from ear-splitting sounds, it gives sensible volume.
- To help follow metronome. Another handy aspect of earpieces is it helps singers hear and follow the metronome clearly. Metronome—also known as click track—is another music device that allows singers and musicians to follow the right tempo by producing a “click” sound. But with all the loud music and crowd noise during a live performance, it is impossible to hear it—except if it is delivered directly to yours using earpieces. Essentially, modern in-ear monitors allow you to hear a specific sound such as the click of the metronome.
- Quality sound. You might be thinking earpieces could make the sound inferior, but it is actually the opposite. These devices that resemble earphones fit tightly into the ear and efficiently block the ear canal from hearing external noises. And just like headphones, the sound coming from the in-ears goes directly into the ears, giving the user a detailed and clearer sound but in a very sensible and non-ear-splitting kind of volume.
- Reduces vocal strain. In-ear monitors also prevent singers from developing vocal strains. Professionals—and even hobbyists need to hear themselves to keep the melody in tune. However, if the sound produced by the sound is too loud and overwhelming, singers instinctively sing loudly in order to hear themselves. In return, it could scratch their throat and develop vocal strain. Earpieces, on a positive note, allows singers to hear themselves clearly without straining their voices.
- Mix customization. Earpieces also enable the user to customize the sound they want to hear and be delivered directly. Each singer has different preferences when it comes to what they want to hear to help them follow the band, as well as the melody correctly. And using in-ear monitors singers can choose what particular aspect of the arrangement they want to hear. Some singers, for instance, rely on kick drums to accurately follow—as well as maintain—the tempo. Some, on the other hand, prefer to hear their voice loud and clear to ensure that they are on the right tune. And all these can be done using in-ear monitors.
Does It Have Benefits for Other People?
Earpieces do offer perks not only for singers and musicians. It also has benefits to other people—starting from technicians who set the whole stage up to the audience—involve during the live performance.
In the audience, for example, in-ear monitors help eliminate feedback and in return offer clean sound. If you are a sound technician or has worked and tried setting up sound and music for events, you will notice that speakers with a nearby microphone cause feedback. And sound feedback, even without its full effect, is irritating and can be painful at times. The entire music may sound muddy as well while the feedback spill into the audience mix.
But not only that.
Earpieces are extremely portable too compared to stage monitors. It is because the latter comes with several wires, and it will be difficult for the signer to move around using it. Stage monitors provide clear sound only if the singer is in front of it. Hence, again, it will be difficult for them to move around and entertain the crowd in their own way.
The discovery of earpieces is perhaps one of the greatest inventions made for the comfort of singers and musicians. It provides a wide array of functions that not only help them music-wise but also health-wise. From providing quality and “true” sound to protecting the eardrums from loud music while on stage, its perks cover exactly what these professionals need.
That being said, if you are an aspiring professional singer or musician, then it is highly recommended to invest with a good pair of custom in-ears!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.