Over the course of 2011 (and some of 2010), we here at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale transitioned all of our campus worship teams from floor monitors to in-ear monitors. The transition was slow and deliberate, and sometimes painful, but has yielded great results. So as we have successfully come out the other side of this transition, I wanted to detail four things about our switch: why we switched, how we switched, the obstacles in-ear monitors present, and the benefits & opportunities they present. In Part 1 I will discuss the why and how, and in Part 2 I will discuss the obstacles and opportunities.
As our worship teams grew across all campuses, so did the level of talent and musicianship of our teams. As the musicianship and the worship teams grew, so did the opportunities. We began using loops more frequently across all campuses, we began syncing lyrical videos to songs, and the level of difficulty in our song choices also increased. As these changes began happening, there was an obvious need for the band to play to a click track so as to be in sync either with the loop or a video, and to keep a solid tempo for more difficult songs. But while using floor monitors, our only option at the time was to put the drummer on a click track, and have the rest of us in the band just follow his lead. And having one member of the band on click and making everyone else follow was not an ideal setup. It got the job done, but just barely, and often not very well. So if we wanted to incorporate more loops, more video, and continue to grow, we felt it necessary for the whole band to have the click. This would let us all be on the same page at all times, and put the responsibility on all of us, not just the drummer, to play the songs in time. So after much discussion, we all agreed that this was the right move for us at this time, and that this was the direction we needed to head in to grow in our ministry.
The big key to our transition is that we took it slow. Each step was planned, premeditated, and not rushed. In the midst of the transition, it felt like we would never finish. It felt as though we should just jump in and get going on in-ears, but looking back, the decision to take our time was a wise one. This allowed us to put the necessary structure in place BEFORE switching, rather than switching, realizing then what was lacking and needing to be fixed, and being miserable until everything was sorted out. So we tackled it in steps.
Our first step, we decided that everyone on the team would need to use custom fit in-ear monitors as opposed to generic headphones. Custom fit monitors offer a level of isolation and sound quality that no generic headphone provides, and hearing well is the whole point of switching to in-ear monitors, so this was not the time or place to cheap out. Ultimate Ears was incredibly helpful in offering us group pricing as well as excellent service and support, so we were able to offer these to our team at a discounted price, and let each team member choose which model they wanted. We were also able to find a local audiologist who was willing to come to the church property after a rehearsal and fit all of our team members with impressions. So we were able to make it as easy as possible for our team. One warning, however: not all custom fit monitors are created equal. Ultimate Ears, FutureSonics, and Westone all make incredible products. But there are budget brands out there making inferior products with very appealing price tags. They fake good reviews, make fake posts all over online music forums, and then you get an in-ear monitor that breaks in less than a year. Make the investment; this is your hearing we are talking about.
After all the impressions for our in-ears were made and sent off, we moved on to the second step. After much consideration and research, we decided to go with an Aviom system for our in-ear monitoring. This system gives each musician control over their own mix, the ability to save different mixes for different musicians, and is relatively affordable. We are blessed here at CCFL with a very knowledgable and hardworking sound team, and at this point they were able to take over. Equipment got ordered, installations took place, lines and cables were run, ambient room mics were installed, talkback mics from the soundboard were set up, and the structure began to be put into place. We also began building isolation boxes for our guitar amps. Since the amp itself was no longer what the guitar players used to hear themselves, the amps could be isolated and turned up louder, so at the same time the amps sounded better and were not contributing to stage noise.
By the time our in-ear monitors returned from Ultimate Ears, the structure was in place and the system ready to go. Now all that was left was actually making the jump to using in-ear monitors in our live services for the first time.
Check back soon for Our Switch To In-ears: Part 2