I was lately watching and re-watching a-ha's MTV Unplugged, and noticed Morten Harket adjusting an earphone while performing the acoustic "Take On Me", and I noticed he has it during all their concerts.

I realise musicians use earphones to protect themselves from the extremely loud noise during full-scale concerts (as do the listeners), but in this case it seems unnecessary as the acoustic version is as quiet as it could get.

What other reason is there to use the earphones, especially for a vocalist, and especially during a quiet, acoustic performance?

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    Maybe it was needed for cues from the TV crew ? No personal experience of performing on TV, so can't really say for sure... – Angst Dec 11 '18 at 22:51

I can't speak for this particular case because I can't identify exactly what he does have in his ears, but I can have a few hypothesis based on my experience.

Slight attenuation of outside sound, even with a few dB will prevent fatigue. In loud live shows, musician can protect themselves with higher protection (for example -35 dB) to prevent ear damage, but even in a non harmful environment, a long term exposition to sound and music can reduce concentration and discernment. Wearing a -10 dB earplug will not drastically reduce the overall loudness but still make the working session more comfortable and delay hearing fatigue.

Another effect is by reducing the outside sound, the singer will increase his own sound and hear his voice better. Anyone can experiment this, by clogging oneself's ear (by simply pressing the tragus inside the ear for example) oneself's voice will sound louder.

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There's always the chance, in an acoustic performance, that the other instruments aren't actually loud enough for the vocalist when he's belting it out.

It's commonplace to use in-ear monitoring these days & once you've gone to the trouble of having your own personal, fits only you & no-one else, in-ear monitors - at anything from £200 to £1000 - then you probably get quite attached to how they sound on stage.

So, long & short of it - it's his personal mix, suited to how he wants to hear the overall performance, including himself & how he & the band sound from the mics, rather than just in the room.

If the seal isn't perfect - these things fit so snugly that you have to wet them in your mouth to lubricate them enough to actually go in your ears* - then maybe a slight adjustment is needed.
Additionally, there are a lot of nods, glances & hand signals, all very subtle, that an artist can use to ask the monitor engineer to adjust the mix. Some headsets also have a simple analog volume control in them.

*If you want to see this done, watch the build-up to any Formula 1 race. The drivers all use very similar systems & it's quite common to see the "lick'n'stick" of them putting the headsets in.

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Morten is using in-ear monitors which give an accurate rendition of sound for vocal performers.

Often when performing without you, a singer will confront a room where the acoustics make it impossible to hear certain instruments or the band, and all you really experience are the drums. In an acoustic situation the chances of the latter are negligible but the problem can arise when it comes to hearing yourself.

I've performed in a rock venue when my monitor malfunctioned and I could not hear myself or the guitarist, which doesn't make it possible to sing with any confidence, and you can't even be sure of your own pitch.

Singers also employ cupping and press to be sure of their own tone, and stay in pitch, so you can judge all those high notes. They are not for some TV producer to feed him information. Morten is capable of all those clean notes and has such vocal control precisely because he is always 100% sure of his own tone and level.

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