IEM’s for Bass Players

It’s up to the sound techs to give the artists the monitor mixes they need without deafening them or breaking the bank. Nobody wants to hear a deaf musician. Here’s some information on how to deal with Personal Monitor Systems and instruments on stage.

Recently one of my workshop attendees e-mailed us about problems he was having while trying to monitor a bass guitar over a Shure P4T Personal Monitor System with IEMs (In-Ear Monitors). The band was using one transmitter feeding four receivers, and doing a simple split-track mix with all vocals on one channel and all instruments on the second channel. (Note that the bassist is plugging directly into the snake via an active DI box without any amplifier or processor on-stage.) They complained that the bass guitar sounded “fuzzy” in all the headsets.  Here’s what I recommended.

1)  Check to make sure your instrument output isn’t overdriving the input of your active DI box. If the bass sounds fuzzy or distorted in the PA, or while soloing that channel on the console with headphones, then engage the 20-dB pad. Active DI boxes (and yes, passive DI boxes as well) can be overdriven and distorted by active pickups. Monitor for this at your console with a good set of headphones.

2)  Many bass guitarists play quite aggressively (pop and slap), which usually is compressed and limited by their on-stage amplifier or processor. However, a direct connection into a DI (passive or active) doesn’t round off these dynamic peaks, which can cause distorted or fuzzy sound anywhere in the signal chain that doesn’t have sufficient headroom to deal with it. Integrating a Line 6 Bass POD (www.line6.com) or SansAmp bass module (www.tech21nyc.com) might be an elegant solution.

3)  IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) can’t generate enough bass energy for many bassists to monitor themselves properly. If you have lots of bass leaking back to the stage from a loud PA system, then the IEMs can provide the mid-high frequency detail. But if you’re doing a nice 85-90 dB SPL room mix, you may not get enough bass to “feel” what you’re playing. A nice solution would be to add a low-frequency effect “shaker” to your monitor. Buttkicker (www.thebuttkicker.com), Clark Synthesis (www.clarksynthesis.com) and Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation, Inc. (www.sensaphonics.com) all make these shakers, which can be mounted on a small platform for you to stand on. The result: instant bass, which you feel, without anyone else hearing it. Also, a very small bass amp with a direct out might be a good idea, as long as the volume level is kept to a low roar. Any small practice amp should do the trick; let the main PA system make bass for the room.

4)  Some sound techs try to combine everyone’s monitoring into a common transmitter feeding multiple receivers. Yes, it’s less expensive that way, but no longer is this “personal” monitoring.  This general monitor mix can only work when everyone needs a similar mix (multiple backup singers, for instance), but is generally not a good idea with IEMs and wildly different instruments. Just as in floor monitors, a personal monitor mix really should be “personal,” where each person hears his or her own instrument predominantly, plus a lower-level mix of what they need to cue on. That being said, you would be better off getting at least two transmitters, and probably four transmitters, so that each of you could get your own mix. That way, the SPL levels in the IEMs are much lower for each person, and you won’t be overdriving the transducers within your earpieces trying to hear what you’re playing over what everyone else is playing. That also holds true for floor wedges. Having six independent mixes on six different wedges will end up being much lower in volume in the long run since each artist gets to hear primarily themselves plus a few cue instruments. With the new powered wedges available, this is more cost effective than you might imagine.

5)  Finally, be aware that it’s VERY dangerous for a musician to wear only one IEM earpiece on a loud stage. That’s because it’s very difficult to hear how loud the SPL level is coming into your one ear via the earpiece while the other ear listens to the band. Artists cranking it up in only the one earpiece can do extensive hearing damage in just a few shows. In fact, some monitor engineers won’t run sound for anyone who insists on using only one in-ear monitor for fear of a lawsuit if the artist goes deaf. Be very careful if anyone in your band wants to try this sort of thing.

Mike Sokol Copyright 2010 – All Rights Reserved

3 thoughts on “IEM’s for Bass Players

  1. We use the Behringer Powerplay P16 personal mixer system in our Church, the Bass player was having trouble hearing herself without distortion through the system, having had a look around I came across the Behringer MA400 – https://www.music-group.com/Categories/Behringer/Signal-Processors/Headphone-Amplifiers/MA400/p/P0491 The Bass is plugged into a DI which is then fed to the MA400 as a mic signal and then sent to the desk, the monitor mix is sent to the MA400 too, the Bassist then has the capability to do their own mix of the relatively unprocessed Bass signal against the monitor mix, the rest of the band are happy with less Bass in their monitor mix. I know Behringer gets a bad rep with a lot of sound people, but it works for us and at £20 or $25 it could be worth a try.

    1. Profile photo of Mike Sokol

      While this headphone amp could likely give your bass player more volume in their ears, it’s possible they’ll end up frying the IEMs or headphones plugged into it. That’s because bass players like to “feel” the bass more than “hear” it in their ears. In my experience it’s nearly impossible to give a bass player enough bass “feel” from headphones without some sort of supplemental bass booster. I’ve seen a number of floor mat solutions that allows bass players to stand on to “feel” the bass, while the IEMs provide all the other instruments plus higher frequencies of the bass track itself. I know that ButtKicker used to make one of these sub-matts, and there’s a few others I’ve seen as well. But it’s going to cost a lot more than the $25 of that headphone amp. So try that first, but be careful you don’t burn out the headphones or IEMs.

      1. It is a compromise solution, as you say there’s no substitute for a Bass player standing next to a nice big amp making their whole body throb, however in the acoustic of our space we have gone over completely to IEMs. Using the MA400 does allow her to have more volume without the distortion we were experiencing running through the foldback system. I had previously looked at the Buttkicker systems but they were at a price point that I didn’t think I’d get the budget for it and it would also be another bit of kit to set up each week and then store away again.
        I am also very fortunate that we have a Bass player with loads of grace to accept less than her ideal solution for the benefit of the rest of the Church.

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