Chances are you make at least part of your living with your ears. Stop and think about it. Could you perform your job as well…would your income level be the same…would your professional reputation be intact if you suffer severe hearing loss?
Both musicians and the live sound technicians who work with them need to be able to hear things. Not just hear them well, but hear them better than the average person. This should make us stop and consider our own hearing health, and the environments that we work in.
What have you done for…(and to) your ears lately?
Did you have your head deep inside a bass bin, listening for a 60-cycle hum, when somebody pushed “play” on the CD player? Were you walking past the tri-amplified sidefill stack, with your ear at compression driver level, when the lighting crew’s ladder knocked the center stage vocal mic stand over into the floor wedge to induce non-stop feedback? Did the drummer hit his primary crash cymbal, hard, 3 inches from your ear, while you were on the drum riser adjusting the hi-hat microphone?
Each of these typical events can be a daily occurrence on a typical concert stage, but any one of them might be the accident that causes you to have either temporary or permanent hearing loss. This could result in a shortened career and a decreased ability to earn a living with your chosen skill.
Accidents are one thing. Constant and intentional exposure to high sound levels is yet another. Did you just finish a 50-show run in tiny concert clubs with that new speed metal band? Was your powerful cue monitor wedge placed on end only one foot from your right ear as you mixed stage monitors for that entire world tour? Do you check 64 house mic line inputs every day with a ragged set of stereo headphones while listening to a clipping headphone amp?
Chances are good that your ears at least need a rest; but there are also certain techniques that can be employed to offer the maximum amount of protection to your hearing as you continue to do your job.
Earplugs are now in use more and more frequently by ushers, security guards, video crew persons, and others who must work at their job while surrounded by the high-level sound intensity of today’s rock music concert programs.
Throw-away foam-type plugs are often issued on a daily basis at arenas and auditoriums for the working crews; some facilities have a nurse or public health official who will provide these items to any member of the general public audience who complains about loud sound levels.
If you’re a technician who works around powerful sound systems, but is not actually responsible for mixing sound during the show, it is a good idea to have some sort of hearing protection device handy.
The same is true if you are a sound professional who is waiting around for your band to come on while listening to someone else operate a loud system. Here are some basic options:
Disposable Foam Plugs. This type of hearing protection device comes in a small cardboard or plastic pouch, and several can easily be stuffed in a shirt pocket or a briefcase pouch. They are disposable, intended for one-time use. Common brands are E.A.R., and DeciDamp from North Health Care. Such devices offer a noise reduction rating of about 12-20 dB, depending on frequency. These plugs mainly reduce high frequencies.
Re-usable Silicon Insert Plugs. These rubberized insert cushions conceal tiny metal filtering diaphragmatic mechanisms to attenuate sound levels. They are often seen in use by gun buffs, construction workers and heavy equipment operators. The Sonic Valve II comes in its own plastic storage case with a key chain attached, and offers about a 17 dB noise reduction rating. Often available in gun shops or industrial safety supply stores, a pair can run from $15-20.
Personal Custom-Fit Earmolds. The best hearing protection device, and the one most applicable to working around musical sound, is one that attenuates all frequencies evenly. When correctly designed and properly fitted, custom-molded flexible plastic earmolds can offer 15-20 dB of balanced noise level reduction; in other words, full-frequency sound is still heard, but at a reduced level. There are numerous suppliers, who provide custom fitting services as well, such as Sensaphonics.
Industrial Headsets. When maximum attenuation of very loud sounds is desired, particularly at low frequencies, the cushioned headset works well. Offering up to 30 dB of attenuation, hearing protectors from David Clark have cushioned headpads and tight-fitting earseals. This is also an option for person who do not wish to stick standard earplugs inside the ear. This is the type of protection often seen in use on airport runways and in the cabs of tractors and heavy cranes at construction sites.