If you’ve ever attended a live concert or a band rehearsal, or any drummer in general, you’ve certainly observed that they usually wear headphones when performing.
Non-musicians may find this habit perplexing: “Why are they wearing headphones if they’re wanting to hear themselves and their bandmates play?”
Drummers wear headphones during performances for a variety of reasons. This article looks at the causes and advantages that a good pair of headphones may provide to a drummer.
Drummers use headphones for a variety of reasons
Most drummers will wear headphones to shield their ears from the loudness of their instrument as well as the other performers surrounding them. While safety is paramount, there are also performance-related applications such as click tracks, IEMs, mixing monitors, backing tracks, and more.
If you’re a drummer who doesn’t use ear protection when performing, you should definitely think about it. Headphones not only improve ear health, but they also give drummers more control over their performance environment, such as what they hear and when/how they hear it.
What Do Drummers Actually Do
This may sound like a foolish question, but you’d be shocked how many inexperienced drummers and musicians fail to recognise the vital role of the drummer in a band. The drummer is in charge of keeping crucial aspects of live music like rhythm and pace in check. Drummers who perform with other musicians are heavily reliant on them, and they bear a significant amount of responsibility for the effective execution of a musical piece. To put it another way, a sloppy drummer equals a sloppy tune.
So, how does this relate to headphones?
The following reasons for wearing headphones while drumming relate to the drummer’s overall role to keep a piece of music flowing and moving. If a drummer can’t hear what’s going on throughout a piece of music, or can’t hear what he’s playing, it’s a recipe for disaster for everyone else who relies on the drummer to get them through it.
Listening to Click Tracks
For any musician, let alone a drummer, live performances may be quite dangerous. With the crowd, other performers, and a room that may or may not distort the drummer’s ability to hear the performance as she is accustomed to hearing it, keeping time becomes critical.
A click track is a sound recording of a clicking sound that moves at the same speed as the song being played. While performing, the drummer uses headphones to listen to the click track. The drummer can keep in time with this click track recording, which acts as a human click track for the rest of the group to follow. Everyone is in time this way, even if the drummer can’t exactly hear what the others are playing. Other musicians, in addition to the drummer, can use a click track.
If you’ve ever attended a concert including professional musicians, you may have observed that some of the musicians, particularly the singer, are wearing small earphones while singing. In-ear monitors, or IEMs, are what these are called.
These devices can provide the click track as well as other components of the performance, such as the onstage mix, to anyone.
Listening to the Onstage Mix
When it comes to live performance, there are a lot of variables to consider. A drummer’s ultimate goal is to hear as much of the ensemble as possible in order to have a good feel for the songs’ feel and rhythm.
Most drummers, on the other hand, have very definite preferences for what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear when performing live. IEMs are extremely useful in this situation since they allow the drummer to choose exactly what he or she hears at any given time during the performance.
For instance, one drummer may prefer to hear a lot of singing and guitars, while another may only want to hear bass. Drummers’ preferences are as varied as their instruments, and IEMs can accommodate almost all of them.
It’s also worth noting that drummers might have difficulty hearing their own kick drum when performing live. It’s a significant thing when this happens since the kick drum is the foundation of the drumset, regulating when and how the music will be played.
Turning Down the Volume on the Stage
While IEMs and headphones can protect a drummer’s hearing while also delivering clicks and onstage mix clarity, they also reduce some of the onstage audio’s disagreeable loudness.
Depending on the genre, performing live is an unavoidably noisy experience. This is especially true for musicians on stage who are closest to their amplifiers or loudspeakers, resulting in a noisy environment that some may find unpleasant or bothersome.
If they aren’t wearing IEMs, stage monitors are most certainly being used. Stage monitors are box-shaped speakers that sit on the stage floor and face the musician at an upward angle.
Because the musician will not always be immediately in front of their own amplifier, stage monitors allow them to hear what they are performing. The musician can also choose who or what else they want to hear from their bandmates via stage monitors.
Stage monitors, on the other hand, may be fairly loud (which is why some people use them as karaoke speakers as well), especially when there are several performers on stage using monitors at the same time. Drummers can use IEMs or headphones to achieve a nice mix in their ears while simultaneously blocking out the other musicians’ booming monitors.
Listening to Backing Tracks
Backing tracks are pre-recorded audio that allow a musician to perform more elements of their music that would be impossible to perform live due to a lack of performers or the audio’s nature. Backing tracks help to round out an artist’s performance by providing precisely tuned, well-executed vocals and instrumentation for the musicians to work with.
These backdrop tracks may need to be highlighted or deemphasized for drummers, which can be done with headphones or IEMs. The drummer’s capacity to hear these backing tracks can help him play properly, but it can also be controlled by him.
Because the drummer is frequently the one who initiates particular backing tracks at specific points in the song, their ability to hear everything is crucial.
It’s a performer’s worst nightmare if their backup tracks don’t work or don’t come on at all, so be sure you can hear everything!
If you’ve ever been inside a recording studio or watched someone record in one, you’ll notice that all of the musicians, including the drummer, are wearing headphones.
This is true even if the entire band or ensemble is performing together and can clearly hear the raw audio. The goal is to get a clear, mixed version of what is being performed so that the musicians can work with the greatest musical template possible.
To put it another way, headphones allow you to control which instruments you hear when recording as well as the sound of your instrument. It’s critical for drummers in a studio to be able to hear key components of the drum kit clearly in order to record a successful take.
While most DAWs (compare Pro Tools and REAPER to see which DAW is superior) can save a lot of dubious takes with the correct mixer on the controls, nothing rivals the quality of a well-executed, live-recorded take. When drumming in the studio, wearing headphones provides you the best opportunity of obtaining that level of quality.
Keeping Your Ears Healthy
While this is a straightforward notion, its importance cannot be emphasised. If the right measures are not taken, playing the drums, or any other loud instrument, can be harmful to one’s ear health. Loud noises can harm your ear’s cells and membranes, which you should avoid at all costs, especially if you work as a musician who is often exposed to loud noises.
While playing the drums, wearing headphones or IEMs can protect crucial parts of your ears and preserve your hearing for many years. Depending on your history, you may be used to loud music, but do your hearing a favour and protect them when in noisy places.
You will not be sorry!
Drummers wearing headphones or in-ear monitors are typical practise in both live and studio settings. Drummers are continually exposed to loud frequencies, not just because of the nature of their percussion instrument, but also because of the amplified instruments that surround them.
While drumming, wearing headphones can protect your ears from sounds that could damage them over time. Due to the control you have over your listening environment, using headphones or IEM’s can also enhance your performance experience.
Finally, any drummer who values their profession and their ear health should invest in headphones or IEMs.