What Does a Live Performer Hear in their Earpiece Whilst Performing? Asked by Ahmed from Nottingham

audioCan’t get over how inexpensive the earpiece is, an amazing deal for a top-end product!

Hi Ahmed,

I’ve been in a few bands myself, but none of them ever got big enough to warrant anything as extravagant as an earpiece, so I can’t answer your question from personal experience.

I do remember doing one gig where the guy in charge of the mix (who’d made his name mixing for a very famous David Coverdale-fronted 80’s rock band) flat-out refused to let us do a soundcheck, assuming that all the bands featured on the show, no matter what style of music they played, could all be mixed the same way. Maybe that’s the reason that particular David Coverdale-fronted 80’s rock band never made it into my record collection…But, whatever, I digress…

For performers more successful than I, it’s usually a monitor mix that comes through the earpiece. This mix is created with the individual performer in mind (meaning that their own contributions are placed higher or lower in the mix, depending on their personal preference).

Of course, with arena gigs being what they are these days, it is vital for musicians to sound the part, which must be difficult if you’re trying to carry a tune with 50,000 people screaming in your face. Large gigs are huge events as well as big business, so mistakes can’t really be tolerated at that level anymore. As a result, earpieces help the band to play together, stay in time, stay in tune and deliver a good show, every single night of the tour. At least, that’s the theory.

As to what they hear exactly, well, I would imagine that it differs from performer to performer because, as I said, each mix is individually tailored to the musician in question.

The example I found on Quora had it that vocalists tend to like their own voice to be kept high in the mix, ostensibly so that they can hear themselves well. However, if you’ve ever been in a band, you’ll suspect, as I have come to, that it is actually to reinforce the fact in their own drug-addled minds that they are the greatest thing in the known universe and that nobody else in the band (especially the drummer) would be anywhere without their naval-gazing lyrics, constant, budgie-like preening and onstage showboating.

…I was a singer, by the way.

Why Do Secret Service Agents Always Touch Their Ears?

audioWith such a lot of information around the web about earpiece’s it is hard to find the top and largely honest articles. here is an article from a reputable blog that i believe to be true, don’t quote me on it but please read and enjoy

When you see American secret service agents on TV or in films, have you noticed that they are always touching their ears? Well, at least one of our readers did and asked me to find out why.

In the ‘Matrix’ movies, Agent Smith and co touched their ears in order to better mimic the behaviour of real secret service agents. Therefore it is obviously a defining trait of secret service agents, at least in America. It is clearly something they have been doing for quite a while now. Then again, the ‘Agents’ also did it to better receive signals from the machines who ran the Matrix program itself…

In the real world (assuming, of course, that this IS the real world hmmm….), the reason that secret service agents touch their ears is not that different. Forrest Wickham, of http://www.slate.com, has the answers:

Are those earpieces uncomfortable? No, it’s just so they can hear better. Pushing in an earpiece makes for a tighter seal, which could mean the difference between hearing or missing a Secret Service codename or another agent’s message about the president’s position while standing in a noisy room. While earpieces are not uncomfortable, they do sometimes come loose, requiring readjustment.

There you have it, a somewhat embarrassingly lo-tech answer, secret service guys push their earphones into their ears because that makes the instructions come through louder and clearer. Being an ardent ‘Spinal Tap’ fan, I can’t help but echo the bemused query of Marti DiBergi and ask “why not just make the earpieces louder?” but that’s obviously a question for another time.

Back to you, Mr. Wickham:

“Earpieces aren’t the only communication devices the Secret Service uses, and not all earpieces have the same design. Some devices, for example, look like iPod ear buds. The one-ear headphone often shown in the movies is standard and comes with a curly wire that runs down under their shirt to a hidden microphone worn in different locations depending on the circumstances of the assignment. One standard spot is just under the shirt sleeve. (That explains why agents are always lifting their wrists to their mouths.) Earpieces also come in different colors, and some agents choose a device that matches their skin or hair”.

So they don’t do it to look sinister, or to get instructions from the machine world that secretly runs all our lives. They do it because, well, their equipment is a little bit crappy, apparently.

Then again, I suppose that if you were trying to hear very specific, very important information in a busy and loud environment, then any headset you used would be severely challenged. It’s hard to hear anything over the sound of large crowds as well.

Mr. Wickham also offers a bonus explanation. At the end of his article, Wickham tells us why the secret service guys always seem to be wearing sunglasses.

“Why are Secret Service agents always wearing sunglasses? To keep the sun out of their eyes. While the Service has often cultivated a certain mystique, preferring to remain “cloaked in silence and mystery,” spokesmen insist they wear shades merely for their traditional purpose, and not, say, to keep would-be assassins from knowing which way they’re looking. The Secret Service has no set uniform, but agents say that wearing sunglasses on a sunny day helps them to scan a crowd for suspicious behavior”.

Sounds good enough to me.