The earpieces that musicians wear are called ‘in-ear monitors’ (IEMs). They are just fancy earphones, which are often custom-molded for the performer.
They are worn for two main reasons: to protect their hearing and so they can hear themselves and their band.
Stages are very loud places. Traditionally, musicians had monitors on stage (referred to as wedge monitors) which would give them the balance of sound that they want to hear. These are still very frequently used with musicians are not using IEMs.
The balance of the music for those wedge monitors is usually controlled by a sound engineer. The balance of the music for IEMs are controlled in the same way.
In-ear monitors have become very popular in recent years because they have become cheaper, there is better awareness of hearing damage among musicians, and there is better awareness by sound engineers and musicians for how to use them on stage.
Why Do Musicians Take Out Their Earpieces on Stage?
So They Can Hear the Crowd
In-ear monitors are like putting very strong earplugs into your ears. This is very important, because stages can be extremely loud and can quickly cause hearing damage and chronic ear-ringing for musicians.
In fact, they are far more effective than regular earplugs, because IEMs are usually custom-molded to the person’s ear (either via an impression or a laser scan).
Musicians often take out these earpieces because they simply want to hear the crowd and take in the atmosphere!
IEMs come with a major disadvantage – they take some of the ‘vibe’ away from playing on stage as the musician doesn’t feel as close to the crowd.
So they Can Mix
Some less established musicians and DJs use in-ear monitors. They sometimes take the IEMs out to set and mix the levels and then put them back in when they are happy with them.
Why Do Musicians Wear Earpieces on Stage?
This is for a few reasons:
Stages can be so loud that they can cause damage within short spaces of time of noise exposure if the amps are not properly controlled (check out our article on levels of noise exposure in concerts here).
Issues with hearing often come over the space of a few years. IEMs allow musicians to monitor their performances at a much lower level.
However, if used improperly, IEMs can still greatly damage a person’s hearing.
Wearing IEMs can allow musicians to get a much better mix of the sound personalized directly to them.
The drummer might be interested in hearing more bass in the mix, the singer might want to hear their vocals better. The sound engineer can adjust each of these to personalize the mix.
IEMs are great for lead singers that want to run around the stage and jump into the crowd
Playing to a click
Quite a lot of musicians (particularly drummers) play to a metronome on stage. This comes in the form of a beeping sound in their ear.
This may seem like cheating, but it’s a very professional way to keep the music perfectly in time.
Music that is out of time often sounds very novice.
Musicians Using IEMs on Stage
Musicians on bigger stages often connect their IEMs to a wireless pack. This means they can run around the stage and into the crowd freely without getting tripped over by wires.
You can Wear IEMs too
IEMs are no longer reserved for wealthy and successful performers.
You can get universal fitted IEMs for very affordable prices.
Entry-level custom-fitted IEMs can now be bought for a few hundred dollars. Therefore, they are now a lot cheaper than they used to be.
So that’s why musicians wear their earpieces on stage and why they take them out!
They wear them for hearing protection, better monitoring, and sometimes listening to a metronome.
The usually take them out so they can listen to the crowd.