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Mixing A Production With Ears In

Seemingly unconventional, relying on IEMs for FOH monitoring can lead to a better end product.
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

Over on ChurchTechArts I’ve been talking quite a lot about how we (rather successfully) pulled off our Christmas production.

Rather than focus on a specific element of the production here, I’m going to talk about a technique I first tried during the production and plan on continuing to use.

Specifically, mixing FOH while wearing my IEMs (Ultimate Ears UE 7s) rather than listening to the speakers.

At first, this may sound crazy, but stick with me.

I had heard about the concept some time ago, but it never really made sense to me. After all, if we’re mixing live, it makes sense that we need to hear the live room.

It wasn’t until Kevin Sanchez was down at Coast Hills a few weeks ago mixing with his IEMs that I gave the technique any credit.

He mixed the entire rehearsal on his ears, and I didn’t even notice. In fact, if anything I noticed it sounded better than usual. When I went up to the tech booth for the service, I saw what he was doing. Again, I was skeptical, but kept an open mind.

The service sounded great. I was intrigued.

So when we got to the Christmas production, I thought it would be a good time to try it out. Part of my process involved multi-tracking the rehearsals, then playing back the tracks and refining the mix with my IEMs. I was surprised (pleasantly) when after spending a few passes of the song tweaking, I pulled my IEMs out, the mix in the house sounded great.

After that trial run, I mixed the dress rehearsal on ears. Well, technically, I mixed the music on ears. There were significant blocks of dialog that I mixed to the house PA. But each time the band fired up, I put my UE 7s back in and mixed away.

When I asked people how it sounded, the answer was always the same, “Great!” I went on to mix the musical portions of all 5 shows with my IEMs and I was again surprised that I’ve never received so many compliments on the mix, even from people who are really critical listeners.

As I pondered the results of this little test, I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, and this was borne out every time I mixed with the IEMs in, mixing with ears gives me much more information to work with.

All the details of the mix are immediately present and it’s very easy to hear things like spectral balance, panning and EQ. I was able to quickly discern subtle changes in the gate and comp settings for the drums, and get the vocals to band ratio spot on easily.

Second, the cleaner we can hear the output of the board, the better the sound coming out of the speakers. In live sound, there are all kinds of reflections, delays, and other acoustical anomalies that happen in any live space.

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