Touring with IEMs

Touring with IEMs
Touring with IEMs is easier than you’d think. Learn about the equipment you'll need, plus additional tips for touring with a wireless system.



Arriving without the equipment you need for in-ear monitoring can throw a wrench in your gig. Here's something to think about: What if you show up for soundcheck with an in-ear monitor system that isn't compatible with the venue’s equipment? 


Using wedges as a backup isn’t ideal. When on tour, making sure your in-ear monitor system includes everything you need is a key step for a smooth show. 


This article will discuss what you'll need for your IEM system including preparation tips and important questions to ask venues ahead of time. We'll also answer a big question that we hear a lot: Can I use my wireless system when touring internationally?



What Are The Benefits of IEMs?


For decades, stage monitors were the only way band members could hear themselves on stage. Many musicians still use them, despite common complaints that keep resurfacing. Now that IEMs are becoming even more prevalent at every level of live music, musicians have a better solution that grants the flexibility to create a personal monitor mix. 


IEMs deliver exactly what you want to hear with stunning sound quality, and they don’t let any other sounds interfere. The sound reproduction comes from a sophisticated array of tuned drivers to deliver high quality sound. They’re essentially miniature studio-grade reference monitors that fit comfortably in your ear canal. 


IEMs also protect your hearing. Concerts are known to produce sound levels that reach beyond what’s considered safe—and this can be especially true for the musicians on stage. The custom fit of IEMs creates a tight seal that enables passive noise isolation to attenuate a significant level of ambience. UE PRO IEMs reach the second bend of the ear canal and block up to 26dB of noise. 


Adopting a wireless IEM system for your next tour will elevate your band’s live performances. Ready to make it happen?



Equipment Checklist


To benefit from IEMs, you need the right equipment. Fortunately, wireless monitoring systems are pretty straightforward, and once you get the hang of the setup you’ll begin flying through soundcheck.


Wireless Transmitters

To receive in-ear mixes on stage, you need a set of wireless transmitters to send audio from the board’s auxiliary outputs. Individual mixes get sent wirelessly to the belt pack receivers worn on stage via specific radio frequencies.


Belt Packs

Every musician needs their own belt pack receiver to hear an individual mix through their IEMs, which are connected using discrete cables that fit around the edge of the outer ear. To receive audio, the belt packs need to be set to match the frequency of the corresponding wireless transmitter. Always be sure to check your frequencies during soundcheck. 


Personal Mixers

Stationary performers, like the drummer and keyboardist, may prefer to manage their own mixes through personal mixers. If you decide to take the wired approach, you can invest in small personal mixers to have full control over the mix while on stage. 


Bringing a few personal mixers along can serve as a backup option if a belt pack receiver stops working or the venue’s console isn’t compatible with your transmitter. Just make sure the venue has a digital console with enough outputs to accommodate the personal mixers.


Cables, Accessories, and More

Imagine spending multiple rehearsals practicing with IEMs, only to arrive at the show with a defective belt pack receiver. Showing up at the venue without the right cables and accessories is an easy mistake, and sometimes equipment can fail when you least expect it. Although venues might have extras, it’s not a good practice to assume they will have extra equipment ready for you to use. 


Before arriving at the venue, stock up on extra cables, adapters, power supplies, rechargeable batteries, receivers, and everything else you’ll need to prevent a pre-show catastrophe. 



Questions to Ask Venues


You should always check with venues in advance to knock out any questions that you have before soundcheck. Trust us—it’ll make you feel better before a show and venues usually appreciate it when bands are upfront and proactive about their sound needs. Here are some questions you should consider asking venues when touring with IEMs. 


“How often do you work with bands that use IEMs?”

Before soundcheck, reach out to the venue and speak with the sound engineer to find out if they’re familiar with wireless systems. If they aren’t familiar, there’s no need to panic. Just take the opportunity to give them a brief rundown of your wireless system and explain some of the basic setup required. Get this conversation out of the way as soon as possible. 


“What sort of board does your venue have?”

It’d be nice if every venue ran the same board, wouldn’t it? Ask the venue what sort of mixing console they have and whether or not it can accommodate your wireless transmitters. Ask if their board has enough outputs to send audio to every wireless transmitter. Otherwise, you may need to rely on some wedges or personal mixers for stationary band members.


“What other equipment does the venue have?”

Approaching soundcheck, you should have backup receivers and transmitters in case something goes wrong; however, it doesn’t hurt to check with the venue to see what other gear is available to use. Getting a full glimpse of all the equipment and accessories you have at your disposal will give you an extra sense of reassurance before showtime.


“How far away is the mixing board from the stage?”

Wireless transmission systems operate at a limited distance, so the belt packs need to be in range to receive a strong signal. Double-check the distance requirements of your wireless system to make sure the receivers and transmitters will be in range. Try to put the transmitters on stage if possible. If necessary, use directional antennas to increase the transmission distance.


“Is there anything that might interfere with the wireless system?”

It’s worth making sure the board isn’t located behind any metal objects or walls that would cause signal blockage. Ideally, you should try to maintain a line of sight between the transmitter and receiver antennas. 



Mistakes to Avoid 


Despite all the benefits of using a wireless monitoring system, you can’t just set it and forget it. You still need to exercise a little know-how for flawless in-ear mixes for your band. 


Poor Antenna Placement

Antenna setup is crucial. Antennae have to be set in the right conditions to prevent dead spots and weak signal transmission. When in doubt, check the manufacturer’s setup recommendations. 


Here’s a bonus tip—be kind to your antennae. Twisted or bent antennae can give you a lousy, unreliable signal. So, when it’s time to load up, storing the receivers and transmitters safely goes a long way. 


Frequency Interference

Rescan for open frequencies at every venue. While on tour, the radio environment will change as you visit different locations, which makes interference problems more likely. Interference occurs when multiple wireless systems are operating on the same frequency band. If you use the same frequencies every show, you may experience interference if it’s already in use. 


Improper Gain Staging

Gain staging is a process that involves adjusting levels at different points of amplification to prevent distortion or a poor signal-to-noise ratio. For wireless systems, the audio sent from the transmitters needs to be set higher than the noise floor but lower than the clipping point.


If audio from the wireless transmitter is too hot, you’ll get a heap of distortion through your IEMs. On the other hand, if the audio is too low, you’ll be forced to crank up the gain to hear anything. 


Mixing Components from Different Systems

To save you from a potentially disastrous moment on stage, we advise against using receivers and transmitters from different manufacturers that aren’t designed to work together. 


Wireless systems are not a one-size-fits-all. Even if you manage to pull it off, you still might experience dead spots, distortion, or low fidelity through your IEMs. If a belt pack fails and you're forced to use a receiver offered by the venue, you’re taking a chance on your monitoring. Bringing backup equipment is the best solution. 


Poor Maintenance of IEMs

Get in the habit of cleaning your IEMs after every use to lessen the buildup of wax and debris. If left dirty, IEMs can push debris further into the ear canal or collect bacteria that may lead to inner ear infections. You might also experience compromised fidelity from your IEMs if the wax or debris blocks audio from passing through your ear canals. Developing a cleaning routine will give you the best results. 


Storing IEMs safely is equally important. To remove your IEMs safely, carefully hold them by the ends and twist. Always store your IEMs in a protective case, and avoid extremes in temperature and humidity to prevent long-term damage. 



Using IEMs and Wireless Systems Internationally


Using a wireless system on an international tour has its own set of challenges to consider before you head abroad. For an international tour, be aware of the different regulations on specific broadcast frequencies. 


A Brief Explanation of RF Regulations

Radio waves take up a limited space that is divided by frequency bands. Every country has its own regulations regarding which frequencies you’re legally allowed to broadcast.


The United States prohibits the use and sale of wireless equipment that operates on 600MHz service band frequencies, whereas Germany reserves the 900MHz service band for ambulances, police, and firemen. Some areas, like the United Kingdom, assign special licenses to broadcast over exempt frequencies for a limited time. 


So, what happens if you ignore these regulations? Depending on the country, the authorities can shut down your show and send all your fans home without batting an eye, and you can end up with major fines or jail time.


Research RF Compliance Laws

Clearly, this can be a huge problem to navigate if your band is touring internationally, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. With a little research and planning, you can take your wireless monitoring system abroad without trouble.


While you’re gearing up for your international tour, take a look at your show dates and research the frequency bans in every location. Study the specs of your wireless system to figure out which countries you’ll be able to legally use it in. 


If a particular country requires a license, look into the application process to get one and be mindful of its duration. When in doubt, don’t guess. You may want to ask your promoter or your venue for help—no one should know better than them which systems work best in their country.


Rent or Purchase a Different Wireless System

There’s a chance that you can’t legally use your current system abroad. Fortunately, all you need to do is purchase belt pack receivers and wireless transmitters that are meant to operate over legal frequencies. Renting wireless equipment is also an option for bands who don’t want to go through the hassle of purchasing an entire system. 


You should also consider touring abroad with backup IEMs just in case something comes up. We highly recommend knocking out this prep work far in advance—you don’t want to scramble for gear at the last minute.



Get Ready to Tour!


Touring with IEMs is simpler than ever! IEMs are the perfect companion for closely monitoring your sound on stage. Gather your gear to begin touring with an immersive experience you can always rely on.


Ready to get started? Shop UE PRO for industry-standard IEMs.


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