February 14, 2019
ELIMINATE FREE SPACE
If you are a singer and you are not using in-ear monitors, you need to worry about and contend with free space. Free space is the environment between the sound source and your ears. And lots of strange things happen sonically within this space. Sound interacts with things and people. Sound bounces all around. There are refractions. Absorptions. Reflections. And if you happen to be wearing a hat for wardrobe, that is the absolute worst! The hat acts as a giant parabolic reflecting dish.
The more speakers that there are on stage, the more free space variables effect what is actually being heard. Some frequencies may be boosted. Some may be canceled. It is entirely unknown. The singer will not be hearing exactly what the monitor engineer is sending.
By eliminating side fills and floor wedges and by shifting the speakers into your head, you negate the free space. The distance from speaker to ear becomes null and as such, external environmental variables become zero. Not only that, but the vocal mic is far less likely to pick up external noise.
Once you've eliminated free space, you will be able to hear yourself with a clarity that you’ve never experienced before. This makes a lot of singers nervous and a typical response is to get timid and to sing with less strength or to compensate for the new loudness in your head by moving the mic farther away from your mouth. To overcome this and to experience the true benefits of singing with in-ear monitors, this is what you need to do.
PRACTICE MIC CONTROL
In your next practice session, put your lips right on the mic and hold it parallel to the ground. Sing until you have a good feel for the sound dynamics and then rotate the mic to a 45 degree angle with your lips still right up on the mic. Get comfortable with that and hear the difference. Then move the mic down perpendicular with the ground. You’ll notice a significant difference between the 3 positions.
Now do the same thing but this time, hold the mic 1 inch away from your mouth. Hear that difference? Now do the exercise one last time but this time have the mic 2" away.
Any one of these 9 positions is within the optimal zone. Just as no 2 sets of ears are the same, no mouth is the same either. You have to find what works best for you. You have to find your sweet spot.
And once you do, you’ll experience a completely different level of control and confidence. This will lead to you singing with much more ease and with much less strain. This confidence is what leads to less vocal fatigue. And when you hear the difference in your performance and your sound, understand that everyone else will hear that as well. It goes without saying but the cleaner the sound is in your mic, the better you will sound to the room through the PA. Plus, you will have a constant level—a baseline—that your engineer will be able to depend on and work with. Your output won’t fluctuate and when it does, it will be your choice based on how you are controlling the mic.
This article stems from a collaboration with Jason Batuyong who has mixed monitors for all of your favorite reality TV singing competitions. The Mic Control practice exercise described above is a system that Jason makes each contestant work on while transitioning to in-ear monitors. This article originally appeared on the Ultimate Ears UE University website.