This article on protecting your hearing was written originally for the blog at Carvin Amps and Audio. I repost it here, and encourage you to check out Carvin’s amazing line of products! Also – notification: I sometimes use affiliate links. Some purchases may earn me a commission! 🙂
If you’re like most rock-n-rollers, you like it loud. And who doesn’t? But if you’re serious about making music for a long time, you’ll want to protect your ears from long term damage. Contrary to popular belief, your ears don’t “get used” to being exposed to super loud music over time. Instead, they get damaged, and eventually, that damage can become permanent, leaving you at a disadvantage on stage or in the studio.
To drive it home a little bit more, consider the following numbers. Hearing damage can start to occur with long exposure (over about two hours) at as little as 80-85db, which is about the level of a noisy restaurant, heavy traffic, or a leaf blower.
A rock concert typically gets to 95, 100, even 115 db from the audience’s perspective, and it could be quite a bit louder on stage. At this level, hearing damage can start within a few minutes.
So, here are a few ways you can protect yourself on stage.
- Control stage volume – You don’t have to crank it to 11 on stage to give the audience a powerful show. Give some thought to controlling your volume on stage, which will help you sound better as well.
- Try in-ear monitors – An in-ear monitoring system like Carvin Audio’s EM900, the Shure P3TRA215CL Wireless System, or almost any other good system can not only clear up your stage sound dramatically, it can save your hearing too, by allowing you to dial in the sound you need without having to blast the monitor wedge. In-ear monitors can also simultaneously act as earplugs to protect you from loud sources like the drums. Just remember not to crank them up too loud, or you’re defeating the purpose!
- Use ear plugs – If you can’t use in-ear monitors, a well-tuned set of ear plugs can work wonders for you on stage. Try a set of plugs specifically designed for musicians, as these type of plugs attenuate sound more evenly across the frequency spectrum than standard foam plugs. This will allow you to keep a clear picture of your sound – only quieter. Even if you have to use a set of foam plugs or a rolled up wet tissue, get used to how you sound with them and use them.
- Take breaks – The longer you expose yourself, the more damage you may do. If you can give yourself some breaks throughout the night and over time – say by scheduling recovery days in-between gigs, you’ll do yourself a big favor.
- Protect yourself off the stage too – If you’re a musician, you’re probably a music fan too. Remember that a set of cranked up headphones can do as much damage as a big amp, and so can a concert or even a movie. If you’re serious about your hearing, you should carry a pair of earplugs with you at all times, and keep volumes reasonable at home.
- Exercise – Believe it or not, hearing is one of the many things that may be helped by regular exercise. Specifically, cardio exercise is thought to help ear health in a number of ways. Just beware of one thing: you can’t exercise your way out of actual damage. Once you cause permanent hearing loss with too much exposure, you can’t get it back. So, protect yourself early and often.
- Get checked – Especially if you’re a professional musician, you should keep tabs on your hearing with a regular hearing test. This will help you gauge how your hearing is doing, which will help keep you on track.
- Early warning signs – Watch for early warning signs that could indicate the beginning of hearing damage, including tinnitus (that hollow ringing you get after every show), having a hard time discerning speech in busy places, favorite songs sounding a little off, or hypersensitivity to certain frequencies. These are signs you may be causing damage, and a good indicator to get your hearing checked and change up your stage habits.
And of course – keep your head away from the snare and out of your guitar cabinet!
If you’re smart and consistent about protecting your hearing, you should be able to keep your ears healthy for a long time and keep rocking long after some people have called it quits.