Can you give me some information on earplugs? How well do they work, and do most rock musicians use them?
Rockin’ Billy Bong
While they’re relatively new to the world of rock music, earplugs have become a popular item with many musicians, and with good reason. I’ve worked for a lot of particularly loud rock bands, and the groups who didn’t wear earplugs usually have something in common with each other—it’s called “tinnitus,” a constant ringing of the ears that result from prolonged exposure to high volume levels. Tinnitus produces varying degrees of discomfort, depending on the amount of abuts that has been inflicted upon a person’s ear.
Among the musicians I’ve known, drummers typically have the worst case of tinnitus. Unlike guitarists, who can stand some distance from their amplifiers, drummers are seated and can’t move away from their instrument. The crashing of cymb
als, in particular, has a harmful effect on drummers, since high frequencies do more damage to hearing than low frequencies do.
If you perform on a regular basis, I highly recommend that you wear earplugs or, if they are within your budget, and in-ear monitor system. In-ear monitors are highly accurate, state-of-the-art devices that are individually created for the wearer.
Working from molds of the musician’s ears, a hearing specialist or audiologist constructs earplugs that fit the wearer precisely. Small speakers, like those found in headphones, are installed in the plugs and connected to a wireless receiver that picks up the transmitted audio mix from the sound engineer. This allows the musician to hear an audio mix at a comfortable volume while protecting his ears from onstage volume levels.
Unfortunately, these systems tend to be rather expensive. For this reason, many nonprofessionals opt for custom earplugs. Like in-ear systems, custom earplugs are tailored to the wearer’s ears. But rather than employing small speakers, the plugs are designed to block specific audio frequencies that could damage the wearer’s ears. For about $125, an audiologist can create the molds from which plugs can be made to your specification.
Unlike common foam earplugs, custom-fitted plugs sound great and are comfortable to wear. Most importantly, they are one of the best forms of protection you can by for your ears.