How To Build a cheap In Ear Monitoring System for your band

IEM for $200? You can easily build a cheap and great In Ear monitoring system using an old Interface you already own, and never have to worry about bad monitoring at your concert again. This article walks you through the steps to make such a system for your band. This will work on stage and in the rehearsal room.

In recent years more & more bands have started traveling with their own in ear monitoring systems. That’s totally understandable when there are so many times bad monitoring can mess up a live show. As app controlled mixers like the Behringer X32, X-Air and RCF have become cheap the opportunity to build such systems is now reachable for more musicians. 

App controlled mixers

However you might be able to build something really cheap or for free with things you already have!

 

Most musicians have some kind of simple studio setup to record demos and ideas. And an IEM system can actually easily be built from an old interface you probably already have lying around or can get hold of cheap on eBay!

 

This also gives you an advantage if you are using backing tracks or want to give everyone a click track. Imagine everyone starting at exactly the same time without a drummer counting them in. You can just send the click or backing tracks through your DAW to the outputs on your interface that are being used for monitoring.

 

Say you have a band with 4 musicians, then you’ll need an interface with at least 4 outputs (8 if you want everyone to have stereo) although the traditional monitor wedge on the floor in front of a musician is mono so mono In ear monitoring should be completely fine.

 

So what do you need to do this?

  • Interface

  • Y-split cable

  • some cables

  • a cheap DI box

  • cheap mics

  • an IEM or headphone amp
     

How much does this cost? Only around 200 euros.

Motu sound interface

Take this old MOTU interface I bought back in 2003. It has a piece of software on it called Cuemix,  That let’s you route all it’s inputs to 4 different sets of outputs, making 4 mixes which can be used for monitoring. It also has 8 outputs. So that could be Mix 1 L&R, mix 2 L&R Mix 3 L&R, mix 4 L&R.

Analogue Splitter

Splitters

It’s always a problem when a band turns up for a gig or a festival wanting to patch in their split to connect their monitoring system. This means the Sound engineer has to unplug all their channels, plug them into a band’s stage rack, take the split lines out of that and then back into his or her system again. 

 

This can meet a lot of resistance, as the engineer is then dependent on the split being in order, and if it’s made from cheaper components it’s another place where noise, hum or dropouts could be introduced. It also takes a lot of time, as they have to change where everything is patched and then patch it all back again after that band is done.

 

So how many inputs do I need? Say a traditional band setup has 14 channels: Kick, Snare, HH, Tom 1, Tom 2, Tom 3, OHL, OHR, Bass, Git 1, Git 2, Vox 1, Vox 2,Vox 3 

Do I need to take a copy of all these channels? NO! So what do you need?

Kick, OH, Bass, Git, Git, Vocals. A maximum of 8 inputs!

 

You might get some resistance from the drummer here saying they need all the toms and snare mics or they can’t hear them over the cymbals. But this just means they aren’t balancing their playing! A drummer is like a conductor and as such should be able to balance all their drums so they sound cohesive and balanced, not bash everything as hard a possible! So get them to work on this, take just an overhead and a kick channel & trust me, your audience and sound engineer will thank you later!!

 

And wouldn’t it be great if this system was plug and forget! Yes It would, So how do I do that?

 

Say this is your stage

Typical Live Stage Setup

Starting with the drums, bring your own kick & overhead mics. Buy what you can afford, but it could be something really cheap and clamp them in the same place each time using a mic clamp as this will make the volume and tone roughly the same. 

Drum Setup for IEM

Instead of splitting the mic on the guitar cabinet, which can be a different volume and tone at each venue, Take a line out from your amp head these are often called Recording compensated outputs, which means they have some speaker emulation on them, or if it’s a digital guitar head just use a line out.

Amplifier Recording Compensated Output

Take a bass split by bringing your own passive DI and plugging it in before the engineers DI. This will have an input where your bass goes, a thru jack (which is just a copy of whatever is plugged into the input) which goes to the house DI, and you take the signal from the XLR out to your interface.

Bass Stage Setup For IEM

Take your own vocal mic, nothing fancy get the industry standard Shure SM58, as then the FOH engineer isn’t going to get any suprises and Y-split it out of the mic. Now your system is completely independent of the lines going to front of house. Below is an image of a Y-split cable.

ysplit.jpg

Once the engineer has plugged in their mics and cables it will look something like this.

Fully Patched Stage

Mic or Line level?

On your interface, The Guitar & Bass channels are going to be line level inputs while the Vocals&Drums will need mic input level. A workaround if you don’t have more than two mic inputs on your interface, like me, would be a wireless vocal mic, as that gives you a line level output and often already has a split on the back, so you can send the XLR output to front of house and the Jack to your rig.

 

But what do you do if your interface has jack inputs and the bass and guitars have XLR outputs? Grab an XLR-female to Jack cable  preferably balanced like the one below - You can tell as there are two instead of one rings on the jack sleeve.

XLR to Balanced Jack Cable

Wired or Wireless?

Finally you need to decide what your interface is going to send to. Wired In-ear monitors are really cheap, but mean you have to have another wire running over the stage for each musician, two if you’re going stereo!

 

The other option is buying wireless transmitters and receivers. These can be costly, but you can use one stereo wireless IEM to transmit two different mixes to two beltpacks in mono. So that can be a place to save, just make sure the belt pack receiver has a pan control for choosing whether you listen to the Left or Right channel in mono - and yes it will still be in both headphones.

 

I hope that gives you some ideas for your monitoring system, just send me a message if you have any questions.

Happy gigging!