Imagine if concerts were still limited to the small theatres of yore. No Kiss spewing fake blood or fighter jets flying over some diva singing the national anthem at a sporting event. No Coachella Festival stockpiled with hipster trendsetters or Super Bowl halftime shows full of nip slips and epic theatrics. That’s the music world we’d be living in had stage monitoring not entered the picture and given our favorite artists the ability to hear themselves over masses of fans crying out in devotion and sonic pleasure.
Legend has it that the first floor monitors (also known as wedges) were used at one of those other-worldly Beatles arena concerts of the 1960’s. Upon arrival to Atlanta Stadium in 1965 the Fab Four found it impossible to hear their sound over the screaming cries of adolescent fan girls. In order for the Beatles to actually hear themselves playing, some of the speakers had to be turned around to face the band. Enter: The Stage Monitor.
For a long while, wedges were the only method of effective stage monitoring. Homemade in-ear monitors did begin surfacing in the early 1970’s and more effective in-ear monitors were made by Chris Lindop and used by Stevie Wonder in the 1980s, but it would be almost another decade before any significant developments occurred.
The man of the hour was Jerry Harvey – an American sound engineer with a ridiculously impressive list of artists on his resume (Van Halen, Kiss, Morrissey, The Cult, The Knack, David Lee Roth, Mötley Crüe, k.d. lang, Linkin Park, and so on).
In 1995, while Jerry Harvey was touring with Van Halen as a monitor engineer, drummer Alex Van Halen felt the intense volume of the stage monitors was hurting his ears and making it difficult to communicate with other members of the band during performances. Alex expressed interest in personal in-ear monitors (IEMs) as a means of reducing the volume on stage, and Jerry started researching options.
After deciding that no quality monitors were available, Jerry used his experience with arena sound engineering to create the first 2-way custom earpieces. He found a high frequency driver and, after some searching, added a pacemaker speaker designed to, in Jerry’s words, “…emit a 140 dB tone to tell you the pacemaker was about to give you a zap, so have a seat.” These speakers were placed into shells, molded impressions of Alex’s ears, which allowed for superior sound isolation and safer monitoring standards.
Skid Row was also touring with Van Halen at this time, and in an instant the lead singer, Sebastian Bach, and other members of the band offered to pay Jerry $3000 cash for each of their own revolutionary sets of IEMs. The modern in-ear monitor was then born and has continued to evolve vastly since Van Halen’s Balance tour of ‘95.
Word of the huge improvements to IEM design quickly spread and soon musicians eager to protect their hearing from excessive noise and experience sublime audio quality adopted the technology. Once only an option for top tier arena playing artists, IEMs are now available to all musicians with much more reasonable pricing than in their infancy.
Based in Australia, Audiofly design and build headphones. We’ve crafted tone for years; our obsession as musicians guides the development of our products.