Watching live performances can often bring up a lot of questions. The equipment used at Glastonbury or any big live performance is not the same as your average small gig. One piece of equipment you will likely see at gigs is ear plugs. Why are musicians wearing ear plugs in higher numbers than ever?
Ear Plugs or In-Ear Monitors
Ear Plugs and In-Ear Monitors are two very different things, and are not to be confused. Monitors are like wearing a set of headphones which connect to a stream from the mixing desk. This is like a traditional monitor, with a mix set up for each musician, but it is plugged into your ears, great for those who move around a lot on stage and it gives a detailed overview of what your fellow musicians are doing. Monitors will usually be connected to a pack clipped onto a musicians belt or somewhere on their person. Ear plugs are not.
An Ear Plug is a device which is usually molded to the inside of your ear, and its sole purpose is to reduce the volume of what is coming into your ears whilst not giving any sort of frequency bias or inaccurate representations of the sound around you.
So Why Wear Earplugs?
Our hearing is precious, and it is unique. Once it is damaged, that’s it. As a musician, guitarist, bassist or drummer then you are likely to be exposed to loud volumes a lot of the time, when you’re practicing or performing.
There’s nothing cool about losing your hearing, and exposure to loudness for prolonged periods or even as a one-off can damage your hearing forever. As well as losing hearing, you can also develop Tinittus, a very nasty condition that can cause buzzing, ringing, chirping or other sounds in your ears at all times. This is very unpleasant and hard to deal with mentally, and musicians are at risk of this happening more than most other people. Tinnitus is not curable and though there are things you can do to help with the symptoms, the best option is prevention.
What the Best Earplugs Do
Earplugs, in an ideal world, are designed to reduce the volume of audio going into our ears without reducing the clarity. If you think a simple disposable earplug or cotton wool is going to do the business for a professional musician such as a drummer, you’d be wrong. Earplugs for musicians need to be good quality and designed to reduce volume and keep the sound audible and detailed.
Molded earplugs are the best bet. You can get these custom made to the shape of your ear, and these will do the best job due to the customization to your own unique ear shape. Some brands are selling kits to make your own molded earplugs but this is a difficult thing to get right. Between the ‘cotton wool’ method and your own molded earplugs, there are some other products which do a good job. Alpine hearing have made a product designed to keep the clarity high and the volume at a level which won’t damage our hearing.
Another benefit for musicians is the fact that our ears ordinarily become tired. This is not something a lot of people realize, but we fatigue the more audio we hear, especially at loud volumes. Our ears become less effective, and being a tool for musicians you should always protect your ears. I don’t want to play down the importance of hearing protection for any musician, but for drummers this is especially vital.
There really is no excuse for not protecting your hearing. Even if you are not a musician and just regularly hear loud audio at gigs (or at work). Tinnitus is not a condition you can easily fix, nor is hearing loss, and preventing your body from these negative conditions can save a lot of heartache and difficulty.