Why every musician should wear them
There’s more to it than safety
Ever since Jim Marshall created the full stack so Pete Townshend could drown out audience complaints at Who shows, rock music has been about three things: loud, louder and loudest.
This has prompted warnings from physicians, your mother and even Townshend himself to protect your hearing. We don’t listen, mostly because we can’t hear anything over the ringing in our ears, but also because rock ‘n’ roll, man.
But it turns out there are very good reasons to wear earplugs or use in-ear monitors that have nothing to do with hearing safety:
You can hear better
You’re in a crowded room. That lady over there is laughing about something. The guy in the suit is making an important point about nothing important, probably. The girl is telling you she’s a vegetarian or maybe it’s vegan, you’re not sure. You’ve locked eyes on her hoping you can read learn to read lips quickly because every sound in the room has been replaced by the monotonous drone of Crowd Noise.
The same thing happens on stage. The wash of the cymbals resonates in the toms, the bass rattles the kick drum, and the guitar vibrates against the hollow stage, creating a resonant drone that makes it impossible to pick out one sound over another.
Earplugs or in-ear monitors cut down on that drone dramatically, making it much easier to pick out who’s playing what. In-ear systems are the best option, but they can be expensive and cumbersome to set up. When an in-ear setup isn’t available, I use the Hearos Hi-Fidelity earplugs. These and other brands of “musician’s earplugs” cut down enough sound to protect hearing, but unlike conventional plugs which are designed for maximum attenuation, they have flat attenuation curve. This means everything sounds about the same, just quieter and without the washing drone that makes things hard to hear.
You will feel better
I rarely drink when I perform, yet I’d frequently come home after a gig feeling like I just spent the night making someone regret setting up that open bar.
Earplugs fixed that, because they prevented listener fatigue. Prolonged exposure to loud noises not only causes ringing in your ears, but actual physical exhaustion, along with headaches and other symptoms that usually require much more poor decision making. By protecting your hearing, you can come home feeling normal, instead of like you just spent the night trying to make Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan recreate a naval battle in your stomach. (Unless you actually were doing that, in which case, best of luck, I guess.)
But seriously, protect your hearing
OK, I wasn’t really going to make it to the end of this article without telling you to protect your hearing. Tinnitus sucks, and there’s no cure. Hearing loss sucks, and it can be preventable. As a musician, hearing is what you’re all about. Don’t throw that away just because you’re too cool for a set of earplugs.