Thoughts on hearing protection

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Matt Bo Eder

Guest
In response to a lot of threads asking about the use of headphones, for listening or for hearing protection while playing, I'll be honest, coming up as a kid, I didn't use any hearing protection. Of course, over the years I've seen my fair share of musicians slowly make themselves go deaf too.

However, I recall Simon Phillips saying in an interview that making a loud noise is much different from receiving the loud noise unexpectedly. So if I know I'm going to be playing loud, my hearing and body are prepared for it and I seem to have been able to take it.

I will say that at the age of 49, I've had my hearing checked at my work (I'm also a sound engineer here at Disney) every year and only now I'm beginning to lose some of my high frequencies in my right ear. Other than that, my hearing is pretty much normal (probably too good in some tests). And I've mixed a lot of loud bands, and played super loud drums in a lot of loud bands too.

When I was a kid, mom and dad let me take over the home stereo and I ran an extension speaker to my room, so this speaker with a 12" woofer and horn were always to my left rear. I'd turn up the music and go play my drums to it. I didn't get into "direct injection" of the music into my head until much later in my career, and even then I did it with proper hearing devices and I've not suffered a big loss in hearing.

So my big question is, is hearing protection an absolute necessity? If you already have hearing loss, then of course, it's necessary. But at the same time I can't help but think there's a bit of "hearing marketing" going on by the companies providing us with these really cool headphones and in-ear monitors too. The problem I see with the "always wearing noise baffling products" crowd, is that you don't learn how to balance your instrument against others. And I learned that by playing along with the stereo and live speakers. I generally find people who wear headphones or in-ears all the time have a hard time just sitting down and listening to the band as a whole so they can balance what they're playing, and everything becomes a big issue.

So what do you think? Am I opening a can of worms that shouldn't be opened? People can definitely do what the want to do and spend their money on what they want to buy, that's cool. I just know when I wear in-ear monitors, I also need to be feeding my own drums into it so I know how it balances with everything else I'm listening to. If you don't do that, you will always play too loud, don't you think? And this just exacerbates the situation, don't you think?
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
Yes Bo, it is necessary.

Ask yourself this. Is it worth the risk of permanently and irrevocably damaging your hearing? No. Even if there were just a small chance of that happening (and it's not) then it should still be encouraged. Your 'body being ready for it' means nothing if you look at the anatomy of hearing loss. A sample of one (you) is not enough to demonstrate anything.

Just like you can learn to speak at a normal volume with headphones on, you can learn to compensate for hearing protection.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Yep, its crucial.

Back in the day hearing protection was hardly mentioned and all the bands I was in played and practiced loud. Thats why I now have hearing loss and tinnitus.

I always use Alpine ear plugs now. its too late, but It will prevent further damage.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I'm one of the lucky ones who somehow "got away with it". I've lost count of the times I came home with my ears ringing - sometimes for 24hrs + after the gig, yet in a recent extensive hearing test I scored in the top 10% of those in their 20's!

Now the reality - just as every other physical degradation, some are more predisposed to hearing damage than others, but there's no test for that. By the time you find out where you are on that scale, it's too late. I have friends the same age as me, who were exposed to much less onslaught, who have suffered terribly.

I'm like the life long smoker that never got lung cancer - doesn't mean smoking is a good thing to do!
 

lsits

Gold Member
I'm almost 60 and have only been playing with hearing protection for the past 10 years or so. I use the foam expanding ear plugs that can be bought at the hardware store. One group I play with has a set list but it usually gets thrown out after four or five songs. After that, the leader starts calling songs out. That means I have to take one ear plug out to hear what song we're playing next. Sometimes the other guys will give me grief for wearing hearing protection, but since I have tinnitus I wear the ear plugs every time I play. I don't want my hearing to get any worse than it already is.
 
M

Matt Bo Eder

Guest
I must be like Andy then, I've managed to get away with it for most of my life. But try not to make me sound like I don't know what's going on when you point out the obvious about it being necessary and how one wrong move can just ruin everything. I'm aware of that.

But I will argue the point a little farther and say it must be something other than your drumming that has caused hearing loss. Most of my rock n roller friends throughout their lifetimes, have always listened to their radios a little too loud. When they bought Walkmans (remember those?) I could always hear what they were listening to. As a drummer I've been positioned in the wrong direction of a full Marshall stack at times, and I've seen the effects of a deaf sound guy just feedback a system with no warning. But I've never been in a position where my ears were ringing for hours after a gig. Maybe my cymbal positioning helps? I dunno. Me playing drums is not a painful thing.

Maybe my audio engineering training has taught me when to brace for feedback and cover my ears? I definitely "ring out" the system when I'm the sound man before the band shows up (the process of eliminating those offending frequencies that will feedback in the monitors when the band starts playing). When I'm driving my car and hear an emergency vehicle coming on me with its sirens blaring, I cover my ears for that.

I'm just saying I don't think it's just the drumming that causes hearing loss. There're lots of other loud noises out there. Yes, wearing hearing protection now saves you from losing any more of your hearing, and that's a good thing. But there has to be better than the blanket statement that drumming alone causes hearing loss don't you think? All loud noises are bad - so is this a case of people just not caring when other loud noises encroach on their lives?
 

chris J

Senior Member
I'm almost 60 and have only been playing with hearing protection for the past 10 years or so. I use the foam expanding ear plugs that can be bought at the hardware store. One group I play with has a set list but it usually gets thrown out after four or five songs. After that, the leader starts calling songs out. That means I have to take one ear plug out to hear what song we're playing next. Sometimes the other guys will give me grief for wearing hearing protection, but since I have tinnitus I wear the ear plugs every time I play. I don't want my hearing to get any worse than it already is.
Don't use foam plugs, I don't care if they're free or cheap.
They are not very well balanced, they muffle too much treble.
Which makes you NOT want to wear them! ;-)

Get some Vic Firth ear plugs, they are far more balanced and far less muffled.
It will be the best $25 you've ever spent!
 

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
However, I recall Simon Phillips saying in an interview that making a loud noise is much different from receiving the loud noise unexpectedly. So if I know I'm going to be playing loud, my hearing and body are prepared for it and I seem to have been able to take it.
It's a nice analogy but Simon Phillips seems like a bit of a know it all, I wouldn't take his word as scientific fact.

I had my ears tested and was happy to see I had only a slight drop off in higher frequencies, they called it the musicians curve.

But I go out to loud restaurants where noise is bouncing off the walls and people can somehow understand each other and I want to escape. I think that the standard hearing test doesn't tell the whole story. The bass player in my covers band has the same problem. We mused that because we're used to listening intently that maybe we can't switch it off?

My little nugget of wisdom today is that hearing loss is contageous. If you're in a band with someone deaf, you're at risk of going deaf too. Earplugs always.
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
I'm one of the lucky ones who somehow "got away with it". I've lost count of the times I came home with my ears ringing - sometimes for 24hrs + after the gig, yet in a recent extensive hearing test I scored in the top 10% of those in their 20's!
I work in an industrial environment where hearing protection is required in certain areas (often times double protection). Our insurance requires an annual hearing test and I show very minimal high range hearing loss, which is considered normal for my age. This is after playing the drums in rock bands with no hearing protection for 20+ years. It has always made me wonder if there is some kind of pre-disposition that some have to hearing loss. I play in two very loud bands (full stack vintage amps and all) and can hear as well as anybody. Not saying they are not necessary, and I agree that finding out too late is not the prudent approach, just odd that I have not experienced any issues.
 

EvansSpecialist

Silver Member
I
Maybe my audio engineering training has taught me when to brace for feedback and cover my ears?
...
I'm just saying I don't think it's just the drumming that causes hearing loss. There're lots of other loud noises out there. Yes, wearing hearing protection now saves you from losing any more of your hearing, and that's a good thing. But there has to be better than the blanket statement that drumming alone causes hearing loss don't you think? All loud noises are bad - so is this a case of people just not caring when other loud noises encroach on their lives?
Here's one of the most reputable sources on hearing loss: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/noise.aspx#1

Based on this information, it's impossible to brace yourself for a loud noise, as it's not psychological but actually a physical change (damage) that takes place. The hair cells can actually die out due to prolonged exposure to noise above certain levels (85db) or sudden extreme noises (ex: someone hitting a loud rimshot right near you). Sudden bursts of noise can cause instant and permanent damage.

I've spoken with too many people that ignored ear protection early on and are suffering from varied degrees of hearing loss. Some of this isn't necessarily noticeable by the listener- they simply don't know that they're not hearing certain frequencies as well.

They key here is to take all precautions when being exposed to loud sounds. It's not worth the risk.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I would suggest reading this....

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000495.htm

Bo you said, "I'm beginning to lose some of my high frequencies in my right ear. Other than that, my hearing is pretty much normal (probably too good in some tests)."

Some of my frequencies means loss, as does pretty much normal. What would it be had you worn protection. I have always asked my self if I would rather be blind or deaf, and I always answer blind because without music I would be a pretty miserable person.

If you are young know two things. Bo is a great guy with a lot of ability and knowledge, and Bo is also very lucky and in the minority. If you have tinnitus like me, you will know to play the wise card, and wear protection. Once it goes, it doesn't come back. And no drumming isn't the only cause of hearing loss. When you go to a shooting range it's "eye and ears" protection. OSHA will make most factory workers wear something. Why take the chance.?
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
I can see both sides of this, and I wonder if the real damage on stage comes from amps and foldback speakers. All the data I've seen about noise induced hearing loss is based on long term expisure to continuous sounds, like machines in a factory for an eight hour shift.
I've tried playing with various types of earplugs lately, and I just can't play properly if I can't hear the others around me. I also need to judge how loud to sing backing vocals, etc. I've never had ringing in my ears, but since turning 50 I've noticed a slight tinnitus pink noise at night, and I find it hard to hear conversations in noisy environments. So:

I wear earplugs during breaks, so I don't have to listen to DJ's and loud crowds all the time.

I sometimes wear just one earplug on the side where my hihat and foldback speaker are.

I only have vocals in my monitor, not drums, and I keep it as soft as practical.

I've found some earplugs which don't cut upper mids so much, and I can sometimes get through a whole gig with these in my ears (earasers) without getting lost and making stupid mistakes all night.

I always wear ear muffs when I'm practicing at home. I quite like the warmer, muffled tone, and the sense of isolation helps me concentrate. The ear muffs also remind me how much I usually recoil and brace myself for loud hits. With the muffs on I can play fast, loud passages in a much more relaxed manner.

But most of the time I still perform without earplugs, because I need to listen and communicate with the rest of the band.
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
We do have an acoustic reflex to dampen vibrations of ossicles by two little muscles that contract upon loud noise but you will still incur hearing loss with time. Usually high frequency first because the hair cells on the basilar membrane sensitive to high frequency is closest to the ossicles vibrating on oval window so they are damaged first. I really don't remember drummers wearing hearing protection in 60-70s but perhaps that was just me-not remembering. I grew up in Southern US so I was shooting firearms at an early age (don't remember anyone wearing hearing protection till 90s), started drumming at 8-never any hearing protection, then lots of loud rock and loud rock concerts. So between it all major hearing loss for my stupidity. Always wear hearing protection.I hope one day science will offer me relief of regenerating my hair cells and the pathway to my acoustic cortex-with hearing loss those pathways regress without stimuli. You can bet I wouldn't make the same mistake again. Now I did have a benign tumor in my middle ear that damaged one ear too. But mostly loud noises were the problem-and that egomania as a younger man that I was immortal and I'd "heal up". Hearing aids are great the digital ones sound much more "life like" than the analog ones but still you don't if what you hear is real or an artifact of your hearing aids-I find it very frustrating at times.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
There isnt really "Two sides to this" If you are exposed to loud noise you will suffer hearing loss and tinnitus, unless you are one of the lucky few. How do you find out if you are one of the lucky ones? .....You guessed.

Foam plugs are ok but they just muffle frequencies, If you use decent specialist ear plugs you can still hear normal conversation and they have adjustable attenuation.

Why hope you will be one of the lucky few when you can get good quality ear plugs for the price of a couple of pairs of sticks?
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Eh, what did you say sonny?

My ears have been shot since age 5 when I used to get my friends to cup their hands around my ears and make really low sounds. It would vibrate my eardrums pretty bad but I found the sensation pleasurable. I remember being about 6 years old and thinking I could hear TV and radio waves. Yes, that was me hearing tinnitus at age 6.

Somebody shot a pistol from the back seat of a car while I was in the passenger seat. The pistol was like 3" from my ear. I know for sure that did major damage.

When I have to drill a hole for my electrical work, a lot of times the drill is right by my ear (when I'm in a crawlspace) and the whine of the motor over the last 26 years of drilling definitely hasn't done my ears any favors.

I have tinnitus that can be heard by me over a lawnmower. So I don't worry about hearing protection, my ears are shot. Yet I still have fine hearing, just constant ringing with multiple notes. I just thank God the notes are all multiples of a certain frequency. If it was dissident or clashing freqs...I think I'd have to shove ice picks in my ears.
 

blinky

Senior Member
What I've heard is that your ears don't care if your brain thinks it's a pleasant sound or not, if it's too loud your hearing will with time be damaged. Me I got tinnitus but no hearing loss, so at age 51 I bought molded musicians earplugs. They reduce sound by 9 dB, not much but it does feel like a lot more, and it's really hard to play with them in my ears, I'm not "connected" to the music in the same way, still got to use them, the tinnitus is on speed for 24 hours otherwise.
I'm thinking of using inears with my plugs, problem is we just use PA for vocals and bass drum, but maybe I could use some room mic to get the rest into the PA. Thoughts on this?
 

Superman

Gold Member
I always use hearing protection. My dad has major hearing loss from years of drumming with no protection. I use Vic Firth Isolation Headphones when playing to music.. and regular shooting headphones for when playing with others ect. You can't get your hearing back once it is gone and $50 or less in protection seems more than worth it.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
What I've heard is that your ears don't care if your brain thinks it's a pleasant sound or not, if it's too loud your hearing will with time be damaged. Me I got tinnitus but no hearing loss, so at age 51 I bought molded musicians earplugs. They reduce sound by 9 dB, not much but it does feel like a lot more, and it's really hard to play with them in my ears, I'm not "connected" to the music in the same way, still got to use them, the tinnitus is on speed for 24 hours otherwise.
I'm thinking of using inears with my plugs, problem is we just use PA for vocals and bass drum, but maybe I could use some room mic to get the rest into the PA. Thoughts on this?
Try the Alpine adjustable ear plugs. I now use them every time I play and they are so comfortable I have gone home with them still in without realising. You pick how much attenuation you want from three levels. Even on the maximum you can still hold a conversation but the music is turned down a few notches.
 

trynberg

Senior Member
No offense, but I'm stunned that in 2015, a thread like this would even be posted. Yes, hearing protection is required. Period. You can buy cheap musicians plugs that knock 10 dB off and only slightly change the balance.

Too many people already have a cavalier attitude towards this, or even the "you're a wuss if you wear plugs" attitude. Protect your hearing. It's easy and inexpensive.
 
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