You've probably seen it several times: a singer performing live with a full band or choir on stage with them, and they're singing their hearts out into the mic but covering an ear. Not both ears, just one. What's going on? Are they going deaf? Are they hearing something unpleasant? Are they doing it just to look cool because that's what other singers do? It's time to get some answers here.
Singing is really hard to do if you can't hear yourself. Most of the time that you're seeing a singer hold their ear, the problem is that everything happening around them is way too loud. When a singer is hitting their notes, they're used to being able to hear the notes as direct guidance as to whether they're hitting the rights ones or not. If you're singing and you can't hear the notes coming out, are you sure you're even hitting the right ones? Chances are, you're not, since you learned how to hit the right notes from being able to hear yourself hitting the right notes.
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To fix this, singers close or cover one ear to be able to hear themselves way more clearly. Try singing or speaking without holding an ear. Then try it while holding one ear closed. See how the sound hits you more clearly? A singer could try to hold both ears, but then they wouldn't hear the music, which would create the problem of possibly not matching the pitches of the instrumentation. So the main concern here is pitch.
If a singer is used to having to hold one ear to perform, they might develop that act as a literal reflex every time they sing. They could be in a good environment sound-wise, but still, they'll start holding their ear on a climactic point of the track because that's just what they were used to doing when the sound around them got too loud.
Since holding your ear is often happening at the climactic point of the song, it's likely that it happens on high notes that singers hit. If you brace yourself for a high note by holding an ear, chances are that will stick to you for some time.
Some singers are literally just faking it to be cool, but I hope that doesn't happen a lot. But as I said, this ear-holding business often happens for high notes, so I can imagine a singer faking it on a high note would make themselves look more passionate and talented (at least in their opinion).
In-ear monitors were created to fix the problem of not hearing the right thing when singing. When a singer is wearing an in-ear monitor, that earpiece is directly giving them what they prefer to hear in their ear. The only problem is, sometimes that monitor ain't so handy. The earpiece could malfunction completely, or it could just not be loud enough, which would force the singer to hold it closer to their ear. It could be loose and about to fall out, also causing the singer to hold their ear.
While many things can go wrong with the monitor, most of the time these things don't happen, so don't worry too much about their faultiness. At the end of the day, the singer can either rely on the monitors or just rely on their hands to hear what they want to hear. As long as it works for them.
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Most singers prefer to hear themselves, but they may prefer to also hear the piano feed, or the background vocalists feed along with their feed, etc. It's really up to the singer, but it often beats holding your ear when you can do as you please with a handy monitor doing the work for you.
If you're a singer that would benefit from in-ear monitors, you will easily be able to find them for around 100 bucks. Amazon has some pretty good in-ear monitors that are $50, which is a good deal in my opinion.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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