Once again Taylor Hearing Center, Berkeley Hearing Center and a non-profit organization called “We’re Hear for You”, http://werehearforyou.org/, sponsored free ear plugs for the attendees of Jam Cruise 14, an annual music festival at sea! I have always described Jam Cruise as a cross between Mardis Gras and Woodstock on a cruise ship, therefore the music is LOUD! Being a musician myself, a drummer for nearly forty years, not only do I greatly enjoy and appreciate live music, I also have some degree of hearing loss. Drumming for me began in 7th grade, long before my career in audiology and knowledge of the dangers of loud music. For many years now the use of musician’s plugs and in-ear monitors are what I use to protect my hearing.
Often the question is, why does it have to be so loud, and how loud really is too loud? The answer to the first question, as stated in an excellent article regarding this subject found on this link, http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/215-earplugs-at-concerts/, is that many musician’s not only want to “hear” the music that is being played, but that they actually enjoy “feeling” the music that comes from the low end of the bass and drums. It is the thump and driving rhythm that gets your feet moving! And the article states that this love for loudness will not change anytime soon, if ever in my opinion. During most concerts at indoor venues, the loudness levels are well over the range to cause permanent damage to one’s ears. A live music club owner quoted from the link above, reported that the loudness levels in his establishment ranged from “98-115 dB”. Now let’s put that into some perspective. OSHA requires that in a work environment of 85 dB or less, no hearing protection is required for your average 8 hour workday. But this changes rapidly as the volume levels increase. For every additional 5 dB of loudness, the amount of time prior to damage occurring is reduced by HALF! So 90 dB can only be tolerated for 4 hours, 95 dB for 2 hours and so on. I would say that an average indoor concert is 110 dB and about 2-3 hours long. One can only experience 110 dB for FIFTEEN minutes prior to permanent damage! And sadly, although most professional musicians have seen the light and use hearing protection, the great majority of concert attendees do not.
Outdoor venue loudness levels vary greatly as compared to indoor shows. Red Rocks, the world famous venue that just happens to be in my back yard where I live up here in the Conifer area, can be as harmless at the top of the venue as to warrant no need for hearing protection. On the other hand, once I was fortunate to have a place in the front row, and even while wearing my music plugs, it was very loud! And most others around me were not using hearing protection of any kind. The general “barometer” for what I consider to be loudness levels that are damaging is the ringing that one experiences after leaving a show. For many people this ringing, called “tinnitus” eventually subsides and goes away completely. But for some exposed to loud music over long periods of time without the use of hearing protection, incessant tinnitus and permanent hearing loss come hand in hand. There is no cure for tinnitus. And hearing instruments as much as they improve one’s hearing markedly and the quality of people’s lives significantly, they do not restore hearing to normal. Hearing instrument users who suffer from tinnitus most often report that there is a greatly reduced perception of their tinnitus with the use of their hearing instruments. The best “cure” for tinnitus and hearing loss is to prevent it from happening in the first place through the use of professionally fitted musician’s plugs for all concert attendees and musicians.
Custom in-ear monitors have become the protection of choice for most professional musicians. Resistance to the use of standard foam earplugs for industrial noise is that they do not reduce all frequencies/pitches equally. They tend to reduce the high pitches more than the lows and therefore music sounds “muddy” and less bright. This is also mentioned in the link above. On the other hand, musician’s plugs and in-ear monitors (which are basically custom fitted “earbuds”) are designed to reduce all pitches equally &/or reduce the ambient noise while hearing the full range of music at a loudness level that is not going to damage one’s hearing. As an audiologist AND a musician I understand the needs of musicians and music lovers perhaps a tad or more better than the average audiologist. Over the years on Jam Cruise I have given away a number of pairs of stock music plugs and people always tell me later how much they LOVE them! In fact, this year a couple who I met on the boat about ten years ago STILL had them! Music plugs are comfortable, they make loud music sound better, protect your precious ears and cost FAR less than hearing instruments do once it is too late. Call me at 303-377-1217 for a free baseline hearing evaluation along with the purchase of any of the hearing protection devices I offer. And let’s keep rockin’ on, safely, through 2016 and many years to come!