Why Are Singers Always Wearing Earpieces on Stage? Here's What We Know

Allison DeGrushe - Author

Nov. 9 2023, Updated 3:42 p.m. ET

Eric Burton of Black Pumas performs onstage wearing an earpiece
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • The earpieces we see singers wear on stage are known as in-ear monitors (IEMs).
  • A singer's earpiece serves many purposes, including protecting their hearing.
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If you've ever attended a concert or watched a singer perform at an award show live on television, then you may have noticed they wear an earpiece. Are they listening to through the device? Does it allow them to hear something we can't?

We know it's something fans have been curious about for a while, and that's where we come into play. Find out why singers wear earpieces during performances and why others take them out.

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Doja Cat performs on stage with an IEM visible in her ear.
Source: Getty Images

Why do singers wear earpieces while performing?

The earpieces we see singers wear on stage are known as in-ear monitors (IEMs). Per Sweetwater, IEMs are a specific class of headphones generally used during live performances. The device provides direct sound to the singer "through tiny earpieces that fit into the ear canal," which "create a barrier to any outside noise."

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The sound quality is much clearer and more detailed than the actual performance, and it protects the singer's hearing and allows them to hear things the audience can't, such as backing tracks and metronomes.

Vocal coach Beth Roars writes, "Musicians are four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss and 57 percent more likely to develop tinnitus."

She continues, "Listening to anything above 85 decibels for extended periods puts you at risk of hearing damage." IEMs block out the amplified instrument sounds, which protects the singer's ears and allows them to hear the mix at a lower volume than the audience in the arena.

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Harry Styles' 63rd Grammy Awards performance wearing an earpiece.
Source: Getty Images

Beth Roars adds that stage monitors can be a tremendous problem for performers, as they take up significant space and consist of several wires that can injure the singers. Also, the item only directs sound in certain areas, meaning the singer must stay in that general bubble to hear without messing up the mix.

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Multi-talented star Harry Styles is known to move around quite a bit on stage; he loves to dance about and reach each area of the audience, so the IEM is the perfect tool for him. Plus, it avoids the clutter of the stage monitor and enables him to deliver the best live show possible.

Why do some singers take out their earpieces?

While most singers wear earpieces on stage, some of them take them out mid-set. Why is that? Well, there are several reasons.

One of the most common reasons singers remove their earpieces is because something goes wrong; the mix may be off, or interference may occur, which causes the singer to take it out to avoid any mishaps.

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Ariana Grande makes sure to wear an earpiece during her 2020 Grammy Awards performance.
Source: Getty Images

Another reason singers remove their earpieces is so they can hear the crowd. This is super sweet because it shows the singers truly love their audience; they want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere and connect with their supporters.

Musician Wave states that "IEMs come with a major disadvantage — they take some of the ‘vibe’ away from playing on stage as the musician doesn’t feel as close to the crowd."

So, if you see your favorite singer removing their earpiece during a show, you can assume they want to join in and hear how responsive their crowd is!

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