Drummers look cool on stage: cut off from the world, playing in their own universe with headphones on. But why do drummers wear headphones when they play? Is it just histrionics? Let’s find out.
Have you ever been to a rock concert? If you have, you must have seen some of the musicians like the drummers, for instance, performing on-stage, wearing headphones. Not only concerts, but you would also see musicians wearing headphones during band practice, recordings, and rehearsals.
You must have mused upon why drummers wear headphones when they play, or how do they hear what they are playing if they are wearing headphones?
The headphones serve not one but multiple purposes for drummers. We will be discussing all the reasons why do drummers wear headphones when they play in this article.
Why Do Drummers Wear Headphones When They Play?
There are several reasons why drummers wear headphones at concerts or while rehearsing or recording for a song. When I was young, I used to think that musicians wear headphones because they look cool.
Well, it is true but not the reason why musicians wear headphones. Let us discuss the main reasons for a drummer or any other musician to wear headphones at concerts or while playing their instruments.
To Listen To The Click Track Being Played In The Headphones
For outstanding performance, all the musicians on stage must maintain the rhythm of the song and the rhythm for the whole band depends upon the beats of the drums. If the drummers mess up, then the entire performance can go downhill. This is where the headphones come in.
A drummer will listen to a click track or a metronome on the headphones, which helps them match their timing correctly. A click track is nothing but a loop of clicks sounding at the exact tempo of the song playing.
The click tracks used while recording the song are the same click track that plays inside the headphones when a drummer is performing on stage. This is done to ensure that the tempo of the recording is the same during the live performance. Many people consider this as cheating, but it reduces the mistakes made by musicians performing on stage and thus enhances the audience’s experience.
It is essential to play the click track in the headphones and not on the stage monitors as the microphones will pick up the click track, and the audience will also be able to hear it. Sometimes all of the musicians in a band prefer to listen to click tracks on their headphones to make sure that they play their instruments in sync to avoid mess-ups.
To Protect Their Ears
Drums produce a deafening sound, and hearing even a single minute of such loud noise is harmful to our ears and can do irreversible damage. The person most affected by it would be the drummer itself.
During a live concert or music recording, a drummer has to play the drums for hours, and being in that close vicinity of loud sound for such a long period can lead to severe harm to their hearing.
Headphones can absorb at least 20db of outside noise. A drummer wears headphones to offer them some protection from the drum noise. Some might wonder if the headphones block the sound, how will a drummer hear themselves play.
The headphones only block some decibels of sound, and given that the drum sound is pretty loud, a drummer will be able to listen to themself play easily.
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For hearing The Monitoring Mix During Concerts Or Live Performances
During a concert, it can get quite noisy on stage. While playing drums on stage, it can get difficult for a drummer to hear other instruments being played and even their kick drums. Wearing headphones offers a solution to this problem by allowing them to listen to whatever’s happening on stage.
For this, they will need to direct the monitor feed into their headphones. Also, the headphones will tone down some of the sounds making the audio even more apparent.
An Alternative To The Stage Monitors
Apart from headphones, you must also have seen drummers or other performers wear in-ear monitors or earphones. These serve as an alternative to the on-stage monitors. The on-stage monitors, in addition to the amplifiers, make the stage very loud.
If all the bandmates wear in-ear monitors, then there will be no need for the stage monitors. It will help reduce the on-stage noise to a great extent.
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To Listen To A Track To Listen To Instructions And Directions While Playing Onstage Or Recording
When a band is performing on stage, it can get very loud with all the instruments playing. If anyone wants to give any instruction or direction to any band members, it can get challenging.
If all the band members are wearing headphones, it would be relatively easier to pass on instruction or direction recorded beforehand and can enhance the performance in some sort.
While recording a song, the drummer or other musicians are in a soundproof room, and the sound producer and engineer are in another room. If they have a comment to make or any direction, they can do so via the headphones to avoid the microphone picking up any noise.
For Recording Songs Without Any Sound Bleed
When a drummer is recording for a song, they would need to listen to the music of the song. If they played the music on speakers, the microphone would capture that sound and the drum beats. Using headphones to listen to the music will allow them to record just the sound from their drums.
To Listen To A Backing Track
Sometimes, a drummer would need to listen to a track to play their drums along with the song. For that, they use headphones to listen to the track while playing their drums. It is the most commonly used technique by a drummer when playing solo.
Why Do Drummers Wear Headphones At Concerts
When drummers or other musicians perform on stage, two things determine how successful the concert would be. The first is us, and the audience needs to hear the musicians, and the second is the musicians need to hear themselves.
All the performers on the stage need to hear themselves to make sure that the rhythm is correct. This is done using various stage monitoring devices. In the past, floor monitor speakers were used by musicians for this purpose. But nowadays, the musicians have shifted to headphones/earphones or in-ear monitors for listening to themself. The in-ear monitor serves a lot of purposes. Let us have a look at them.
Isolating The sound
Earphones are a great way of isolating the sound for better sound quality. They also serve the purpose of blocking unnecessary sounds. A performer wears an earphone inside their ear canal, which seals the ears and blocks the outside noise significantly. It lets the performer perform without any distractions.
While the monitor speakers meant for allowing the performers to hear themselves can interfere with the whole system. It can give feedback to the speaker’s intended audience and affect the performers’ performance by creating acoustic problems.
Setting The Volume Accordingly
Stage monitoring systems have a loud volume setting for a musician to hear themself. This leads to the constant exposure of a performer to loud music, which can cause severe damage to their hearing.
Using in-ear monitors also allows a drummer or other musician to manage the volume of the sound being played in the earphones. It also helps reduce the volume on stage. With an IEM, a musician can hear their tracks at a volume level they prefer. In the long run, using earphones allows protection of their hearing.
Another reason for using in-ear earphones would be to personalize the sounds for the performers and let them hear what is essential for them to perform better on-stage.
Some performers need to hear any specific instrument louder for them to match or sync the rhythm. For example, the singers need to listen to themself not to sing off-tone. For this use, in-ear monitors or earphones let them increase or decrease the volume of any specific instrument as per their need.
While using stage monitoring devices like speakers, it was always possible that the microphones used by the performers or musicians would pick up the speakers’ sound. It mainly happened when the microphones and speakers were too close or when the mics were turned down toward the speakers.
Using in-ear monitoring lets a musician hear the sound directly in their ear, which essentially eliminates any feedback.
An in-ear earphone or monitoring device allows a performer to move freely around the stage if needed. In the case of other stage monitoring devices, it was essential for a performer to stay at a specific spot or within a range if they wanted to hear the sound properly. Not only this, storing the stage monitoring devices used to take up a lot of space which is not the case with in-ear monitoring devices.
To Give Musical Directions
If a music director or a fellow performer needs to give directions or musical cues to musicians performing on stage, an in-ear earphone also comes in handy. It allows synchronization of all the performers and thus enhances the performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you wear headphones when playing drums?
Yes, you should wear headphones when playing drums. Drums have a loud sound, and listening to a high sound for a long time can lead to hearing problems.
Another benefit of wearing headphones when playing drums would be to listen to the sound played by you. You can connect the monitor feed to your headphone and listen to the music. Also, you will hear less of the nose made by drums, which will stay focused on the beat and enhance the performance.
What do drummers hear in their earpieces?
There are a lot many sounds that a drummer can choose to hear in their earpiece. They can listen to themselves or other musicians playing or hear the click tracks to maintain the rhythm.
Most often, they hear a mix of everything in a balanced manner to make out the difference between different components and still be able to hear themselves play.
Some of the time, apart from hearing themself play, a headphone also serves the purpose of lowering the loud music playing on stage to offer protection to the drummer’s ears.
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Why do drummers wear earmuffs?
Earmuffs have all but one purpose, to block out the outside noise. If you have seen a drummer wearing earmuffs, then it is to block the loud noise produced by the drums during rehearsal or the loud music on stage with so many instruments playing together. Repeated exposure to sound that loud can lead to severe hearing issues, and no one would want that.
According to a study, you can find hearing issues in about 30 to 50 percent of musicians. In another study, it was found that about 40 percent of drummers suffer general hearing loss, while in comparison, only 9 percent of the reference population suffer from the hearing loss issue.
Why do people wear headphones when playing music?
While not all but most musicians wear headphones when playing music, whether they are performing or recording for a song. Headphones serve different purposes depending upon the situation.
If a musician is recording and wearing headphones, then they use them for communication. The sound engineer and producer are sitting in another room, and if they need to communicate to the musician, they do it with the help of the headphones. This is done to avoid bleeding, which refers to the microphones catching noises other than the music.
Another reason to wear headphones is to listen to a click track to maintain the song’s rhythm. Headphones also cancel out the noise and let musicians focus more on their instruments.
While it is pretty common for drummers and several other musicians to wear a pair of headphones while performing on stage or rehearsing, most people don’t know the actual reason behind it. They often wonder- why do drummers wear headphones when they play.
The primary purpose headphones serve for drummers is to keep their timing right. On their headphones, there is a click track that plays a click sound on the loop. The click track shares the tempo with the track being played to match their beats to the song.
Another reason for a drummer to wear headphones is to protect their ears from the really loud sound coming from the drums.