This article might be more of a PSA than anything helpful, but I hope readers will take the message to heart.
The message is: Protect your hearing!
If you’re a musician, it is the single most valuable of the sense you have. It’s natural for your hearing to degrade as you get older, but there’s no need to accelerate that process by not protecting your ears in loud environments.
One of the worst consequences of damaged hearing is a symptom called tinnitus. As you lose hearing, often in the high frequency range, your ears start to “generate” the missing frequencies to compensate. The result is a constant high pitched ring in your ears that can seriously reduce your quality of life. Apart from that, you’ll have difficulty discerning speech because a lot of the consonant sounds of our voice use high frequencies as well.
The first advice I have to offer is to take frequent breaks from noisy environments. This is especially easy to forget when you’re in a loud but tolerable environment, such as a bar with loud conversations and music just below conversation levels. I’ve had nights where my ears would ring slightly even when there was no loud band playing, simply from being in a noisy environment for long enough.
The second advice is to get protection. The best quality ones will cost over $100 and will be custom fitted to your ears. They will come with replaceable filters that can adjust the amount and type of sound filtering to produce a very natural volume reduction. There are cheaper silicon fitted plugs that also do a decent job. The cheapest would probably be foam plugs that are often used for construction labourers but they don’t provide a very natural sound. If you’re ever in a pinch then you can grab some tissue or napkin and put some pieces in your ears.
Third advice is to just turn it down! It’s obvious but so many people are attached to the notion that louder = better. While it’s true that louder volumes makes for an energetic experience of music, there is a threshold where the enjoyment is overcome by the discomfort in your ears. I commend venues that make an effort to make hearing protection available at their concerts but it wouldn’t be a problem if the volumes were reasonable in the first place. Same goes for bands – don’t be afraid to tell your bandmates to turn down. It’ll make for a much better performance.
I have a hard time convincing myself to go to a rock show these days for this reason alone. It’s an unfortunate trend that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I even have professional ear plugs but why should I be needing them in the first place? As a musician, I don’t want to risk damaging my hearing just for a night out, I need it so that I can keep doing what I want to do. It always blows my mind when my colleagues don’t take any measures to protect their hearing at a concert!
Anyway, rant over. Please protect your hearing so you can keep enjoying music for as long as possible!