Hearing Care Information for Musicians and Audiophiles!

No matter how you look at it, there’s one basic formula that leads to hearing loss for Musicians:

Many of us wait until it’s too late to do something. This may be because the warning signs go away after a period of rest, or that you think you’re invincible. But, by the time you notice there’s a problem, hearing loss has already occurred. If you want to do something about your hearing, you have 3 options:

-Control the volume at its source
-Passive Hearing Protection
-Active Conservation

Turn It Down: Strategies To Control Volume At Its Source

Here are a few simple strategies that you can use to turn the volume down.

Every situation is unique, so some of these ideas may or may not work for you (in your environment). You may want to combine some of these ideas with passive hearing protection, or the use of in-ear musicians’ monitors. This section applies mainly to amplified music. If you are in a drum and bugle corps, or an orchestra, passive hearing protection may be the best solution for your situation.

Try using smaller sticks or Blasticks/Hotrods. Consider using smaller drums and lighter cymbals to reduce the volume. Use dampening materials on the heads themselves; tape, towels or tone rings can all effectively lower the volume you produce. A little experimentation and commitment to reducing your volume will provide decent results with good tone.

With the coolest pedals and effects boxes ever available, the guitarist has a lot in his/her arsenal to help lower the volume and still get good tone. You may want to try tilting the speaker cabinet back so it points towards you, or raising the speaker cab/amp to ear level. Some players mic the amp in its road case. Use a compressor at lower volume to help smooth things out and give you a fuller sound.

A small amp raised off of the floor and angled toward your ears can help. Use a compressor to fatten your sound up. Many players use an amp on stage mostly to monitor themselves; the P.A. carries most of the bottom.

Turn the volume down and use an E.Q. to help fatten things back up. Try to place the speakers closer to ear level.

Put the horn players on a riser so that their sound is directed over the heads of other players. Plexiglas panels can be used to reflect the sound.

Passive Hearing Protection

The most common way to protect your hearing is to use passive hearing protection (an earplug). But before you run down to the local store and get some kind of foam or other generic goop that you put in your ears, understand what happens to sound when you use that type of earplug. A major portion of the high frequency signal of your music will be lost. While that may be great if you live for bottom, most of us like to hear a little sizzle on the top.

What’s That Frequency?

Most generic fit solutions to hearing protection are designed with only one thing in mind – maximum attenuation (noise reduction). While that may be great if you’re changing tires at the local “TIRES ‘R US”, for most musicians/music lovers it’s just not enough. With most standard earplugs, the higher the frequency the more attenuation, or reduction, in volume you get. This makes the music sound muddy, and is one of the reasons many musicians reject hearing protection.

How Will I Know What Works For Me?

That depends on the type, and volume, of music you’re playing or listening to, as well as your daily or weekly exposure level to loud sounds. How often do you rehearse; do you take the subway; ride motorcycles, hunt? All these variables should be taken into consideration when choosing which type of hearing protection, as well as how often you should be using it. Hearing loss is cumulative, that is, it is the total time of exposure and the loudness of the sound combined that contribute to hearing loss. Each one of us is unique enough that it could very well happen that two people exposed to the same conditions will differ drastically in the amount of hearing loss they suffer.

Check It Out!

The best way to determine your noise load is to contact an Audiologist and have a noise study done. Okay, so you’re thinking “come live on the planet where I live”. Hey, it doesn’t cost much money to make a couple of phone calls to see if it’s a viable option. So now you’re thinking, “come live in my neighborhood”. If having a professional check it out for you is not an option, go to a Radio Shack and get a dB meter. They are inexpensive, and are a pretty good tool to keep in your gig bag. Start a notebook and keep track of your noise load. Whether you play piccolo in an orchestra or drums in an industrial rock band, you’ll be surprised at what you put your ears through.

See A Professional

While the guy at the local amplifier emporium may be perfectly truthful when he says, “I’ve stood in front of a stack of amps for years and I don’t have any hearing loss”, those are his ears, not yours. An Audiologist can help by answering your questions with the real story, not rhetoric. You can get a hearing test that lets you see where you are. You can get good advice on strategies that will allow you to be in control of your total noise exposure. Not all Audiologists are familiar with Musician products and needs so ask questions and find someone who is willing to work with you for your situation. Remember Volume And Duration

Noise induced hearing loss is directly related to the intensity of the sound as well as the duration, or time, you were exposed to the sound or sounds. The total exposure is what eventually leads to hearing loss. Your body gives you warning signs, but a lot of people don’t act on these signs until it’s too late.

What’s In My Account?

It may be helpful to think in terms of a bank account. Every time you expose yourself to loud sounds you are making a withdrawal from your account. Instead of a withdrawal receipt your body gives you a physical equivalent. Your ears feel like they are stuffed with cotton, perhaps you have a little ringing in your ears, or it sounds like other people’s voices are muffled. These are all signs of temporary threshold shift; your body’s way of warning you that your account could be overdrawn.

What’s The Answer? Musicians’ Earplugs!

Musicians earplugs are designed specifically to reduce the volume, but not alter the frequency response of your music. You get to hear your music with all its subtleties and nuances, but at a lower volume. Special filters fit into custom molded earpieces. These filters allow you to have the amount of attenuation that is correct for your situation, and custom molding assures that they are comfortable, effective and inconspicuous, (if you desire).

Do Your Ears A Favor

The next time you leave rehearsal, practice, club, or a concert, think about this. As much as hearing aids have improved over the last few years, none will replace 100% of the hearing you were born with. The resources and the tools are out there; it just takes a commitment to protect your hearing.

Active Conservation

Over the last few years, there’s been a revolution in live music. It’s a revolution you can hardly see, but one you can certainly hear. From rock to jazz, from country to hip hop, the biggest names in music have come to rely upon personal in-ear musicians’ monitors to maximize the quality of their live performances. Gone are heavy, bulky stage monitors and deafening volume levels. Also gone are muddy sound and off-key performances – a result of the musician simply not being able to hear what he or she was doing.

Whether on our own or with various partners, the monitors that most professionals have turned to since the early 1990’s have been designed and manufactured by Westone Laboratories. Boasting nearly 50 years of intimate knowledge and experience with the human ear, an electrical engineer, on-staff hearing care professionals, and musicians on the design and production teams, Westone is the in-ear expert. The Hearing Doctor office is a Westone authorized provider for musician products, call us at 779-7500 to have your diagnostic hearing evaluation and to have custom musician plugs and/or ear monitors made.

How do in-ear musicians’ monitors protect your hearing?

In ear monitors are designed to reduce ambient sound. While no hearing protection product can eliminate all sound, the Westone Music Products in-ear musicians’ monitors are designed to reduce ambient sound by 20 to 25 dB. This means stage noise, from the guitarist’s blaring amp to the pounding of the drums, can now be significantly reduced. The benefit to you, the musician, is that you can now have more control over the volume at which you hear your own performance.

It is generally acknowledged in hearing care circles that the average person can be exposed to about 85dB for eight hours per day with little or no risk to their hearing. Your safe exposure time is cut in half for every 5dB increase in volume. If the volume goes up to 90dB, the safe exposure time is four hours. At 95dB, it is two hours. Some bands can be well in excess of 105 or even 110dB. This means that safe exposure time is now counted in minutes instead of hours — 105dB is 30 minutes, while 110dB reduces safe exposure time down to 15 minutes.

In-ear musicians’ monitors allow you to reduce ambient sound so that you can increase your safe exposure time.

Why Go To In-Ear Musicians’ Monitors?

First off, let’s get something straight. It’s easy to get started with in-ear musicians’ monitors, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

That said, even though a large percentage of professional touring bands are using in-ear musicians’ monitors, I’m betting that the group you’re with probably doesn’t have the budget to outfit each band mate or vocalist with a wireless mix of their own. I’ll also wager you’re not carrying a front-of-house engineer and a separate monitor engineer to respond to your every whim either.

So what can you do in the meantime? Graduate from those clunky old feedback-filled floor wedges to an in-ear musicians’ monitor system.

How To Get Started

Getting started is easy! First, you need to understand that the earpiece is essential to the sound quality of an in-ear musicians’ monitoring system. Without a good earpiece, you might as well go back to your wedges. After all, nobody buys a state-of-the-art home stereo and then plugs a pair of fifty-year-old jalopy speakers into it. Without great speakers and a snug fit in your ear to block out the stage noise, you’re wasting your time.

Secondly, make a realistic assessment of the set-up that you are currently using. There’s a pretty good chance, depending on your setup, that you can get started with few or no modifications.

The Earpiece

As noted above, decisions about the earpiece will have a huge effect on your ability to enjoy all the benefits available from musicians’ monitor technology. Typical earbuds sound pretty good when listening to CD’s, but they were not designed for in-ear musicians’ monitoring. Think about this: The manufacturers purposely make the earbuds so that external sounds (traffic, warning signals, etc.) can still be heard. This is accomplished by not closing out those sounds. That’s not what you want on stage unless you’re in an acoustic duo or dodging traffic is part of your stage show. Even then it’s not ideal. The earbuds that came with your portable CD or MP3 player are not in-ear musicians’ monitors.

If you are using amplifiers, PA systems or any modern pro sound equipment, in order to hear the monitor mix with regular earbuds, the sound level of the earbuds can quickly reach a dangerously high volume. Don’t let the generic rubber earpieces that you see on the market fool you either. They don’t provide any more noise reduction than the earbuds themselves. They’re really only designed to help keep the earbuds in your ears.

So, What’s The Solution?

Westone, the in-ear experts since 1959 and the name behind the two most successful lines of in-ear musicians’ monitors in music history, has developed the UM1 and UM2 universal musicians’ monitor. The UM Series offers the most affordable professional quality musicians’ monitor on the market. These monitors come with compressible foam tips, or custom molded earpieces. These tip solutions are designed to seal in your ear canal. This allows you to listen at the volume you choose, which need not be too high because the stage noise has been drastically reduced. This is really important if you want your hearing to last very long. You’ll also be able to check out how good a serious pair of in-ear musicians’ monitors can sound.

Setting It All Up

Now that you have decided to get a set of earpieces that are designed for serious in-ear musicians’ monitoring, lets talk about your sound system and how you can start using in-ear musicians’ monitors with the set-up you already have.

Take a look at the mixing board. How many monitor (aux) sends do you have available? How many do you usually use? If you have a mixing board with multiple aux sends using in-ears is easy. If not, depending on what you want to accomplish, you’ll likely need to get a new mixing board. Your local music store or pro sound dealer can help you get a board you can use.

Still, even with only the headphone out jack found on the most rudimentary of mixing boards, there are things you can do to improve your band’s playing dynamics.

A common problem in bands is that the drummer gets left out of the mix. They’re usually just left in the back of the stage to go through the motions and hope all is well with the other players. Most of the time, the drummer has to make do with what he can hear from the bass player’s amp pounding next to him, and what may work its way back from the blaring floor wedges. Good news! Even in the simplest set-up, you can send the drummer a front-of-house mix from the headphone out of the mixer. Suddenly Joe Drummer is part of the band again!

But let’s talk about what you can do to get the whole band on in-ear musicians’ monitors with a system you might already have.

One easy set-up to implement is to send the mix from an aux send to one of the many headphone amplifiers on the market. You can probably pick one of these amps up from your local music or pro audio store. Make sure you get one that will allow you to add your instrument or voice to the mix that is fed to the headphone amp from the mixing board. By using one of these headphone amps, you’ll have control of your instrument or voice and will be able to mix it with the front-of-house feed in order to hear the rest of the band at one volume level and your instrument or voice at another.

The fact is that you can run as many individual monitor mixes as you have aux sends available on your mixing board. This makes it easy to get going right away.

With just a little more sophistication, there’s a lot more you can do. Add a compressor/limiter into the signal path to control volume peaks and spikes. Add an EQ into the chain to sweeten the sound. And, as your band gets more experienced with in-ear musicians’ monitoring, you can add wireless transmitters and receivers if it makes sense for your group.

Even if your band isn’t quite ready to kick those wedges off the stage, you can get started yourself. As long as you’ve got an aux send from the board and a headphone amp, you can be the only player in the band who really knows what you sound like. The rest of the group will soon be on board.

Soon enough, you’ll find yourself using your monitors on a daily basis, band or not. In addition to providing a great way to practice your electric instrument without making neighborhood enemies, your in-ear musicians’ monitors can be plugged into your computer for realistic, all-in-your-head game play. They’ll even plug into the seat arm jack in many airplanes! And wait until you hear what your portable CD player or MP3 player sounds like with a pair of Westone earpieces!

The Overall Benefits

In-ear musicians’ monitors can make a substantial difference in the way your band sounds. You’ll hear yourself more clearly on stage. You’ll be able to listen at the volume you choose and, depending on your set-up, you can have your own monitor mix. In most clubs, the audience will be able to hear your front-of-house mix as opposed to the monitor mix. You can forget about your floor wedges and have more room on stage. In-ear musicians’ monitors are quicker and easier to set up than all those heavy power amps and wedges and you won’t have to lug all that junk around either. Management will love the volume control you can achieve.

Perhaps best of all, because you’ve eliminated the stage noise and can keep your mix down to a reasonable volume level, you’ll protect your hearing for years to come.

So what are you waiting for? Affordable in-ear musicians’ monitors have arrived. The Hearing Doctor office offers a full line of Westone products for the musician including hearing protection, universal fit monitors and custom fit monitors just like the ones your musical heroes use. Call your Tulsa Audiologist in Oklahoma, The Hearing Doctor, at 779-7500 or email us from the link at the side of the page with musician product questions!