Do rock musicians wear ear protection when performing?

Title says it all.

Pete Townshend does…now.

It depends on the venue. I’ve watched plenty of live shows where they have, and plenty of live shows where they haven’t.

Yonks ago I saw an interview with Meat Loaf where he talked about wearing ear protection on stage. Specifically he claimed he used to stuff bits of napkin in his ears.

If they don’t, they should. Hell…I have hearing loss due to loud concerts and I didn’t go to a concert every night!

A lot of musicians these days use in-ear monitors instead of monitor speakers, to hear the performance. Most of the IEMs have a lot of sound isolation; some can reduce the ambient sound by more than 30db. They can then decide how loud they want the signal in their ears to be.

Loud, rock concert level performing caused serious hearing problems for Felix Pappalardi

Mountain (“Mississippi Queen”) was a very loud rock band.

Yep, but I would venture to guess that many don’t do it as a precaution against hearing loss - more do it as a precaution from FURTHER hearing loss. As in, more older musicians who are already having hearing problems do it now while younger ones don’t worry about it yet. Although I hope what riker is talking about is catching on.

I was at a show a few weeks back with a friend’s band that was popular in the 70’s. My friend was wearing earplugs because he has already experienced hearing loss after 30+ years of playing and his doctor told him he’s got to wear them or his hearing will deteriorate further. He puts them on before the show and wears them for the duration, even during opening acts when he’s backstage.

I never do when I’m onstage. I want to hear everyone in the band as clearly as possible.

It’s actually not as loud on stage as you might think. The speakers are aimed at the audience, so most of the sound goes out away from the stage. In fact, most performers have to use stage monitors (small speakers up on the stage that are aimed back at the musicians) in order to hear themselves playing properly. (see also riker1384’s comment about in-ear monitors above)

However, even though the stage isn’t as loud as say the 6th row of the audience, it’s still fairly loud up there and repeated exposure to those sound levels can cause hearing damage.

The guys in The Police were definitely wearing musician’s earplugs this summer. I knew when the show was done because they pulled those puppies out of their ears ASAP.

Yes it is.

Earplugs are like condoms. Yeah, you’re protected and all, but you’re not getting the full sensation. I tried wearing them on and off (earplugs) but I never liked them and didn’t wear them as often as I should have during my 20+ years in rock bands. Plus my ears would always get irritated no matter how clean I kept them (I still can’t wear ear buds for that reason).

One problem was that, being in bands playing in clubs where we were lucky to have a sound man at all, I had a hard enough time hearing what I needed to hear in the first place. Using ear plugs would just make that problem worse.

The bass player in my last band had some custom fitted fancy ones (something about attenuating some frequencies more than others) that he liked.

This is not true.

In fact, in most cases, hearing protection will increase your perceived dynamic range for the loud music you are trying to listen to and vastly improve one’s ability to hear the music, loud machinery your’re listening for faults in, etc.

Furthermore, hearing failure usually doesn’t occur in a “flat manner.” Instead higher pitches are typically the first to go, so hearing damage will not just reduce your perception of sound, but likely distort your hearing as well. Unless quiet, muffled hearing is advantageuos to the career of a musician, I’d advise wearing hearing protection in any loud environment whenever possible.

Now, I won’t expound at length on whether or not one should emulate the risk-taking behavior or lifestyle of rock-musicians, but most aren’t people that teachers point to second grade classes towards to emulate. Just because most rock-musicians don’t wear hearing protection and music is their profession doesn’t mean they are, “right.”

I’ll offer my own experience and say that my enjoyment of rock-concerts has increased a great deal since I’ve started bringing and wearing ear-plugs. The music just sounds much more, “articulate,” and sounds like actual songs instead of banging and screeching. Also, I do personally know several very proficient and semi-famous professional rock-musicians that wear hearing protection. They’ve outgrown any need to endanger their careers and health for the purposes of looking cool. Also, when I go to clubs, I’ve noticed more and more recently that I’m not the only one in the audience with hearing protection in. Maybe it’s even becoming some sort of hipster fad.

If you’re still uncertain about how it will reflect with others, just buy a size smaller jeans, toss in some of the plugs with the neon cord connecting them, and proclaim that you’re being ironic.

Okay, that’s my public health screed for the day.

My buddy fronts a band and they all use in-ear monitors. (Sorry, I don’t know exactly what they are called). An imprint is made of your ear to customize fit exactly. Then you get a mix of the channels as you need to hear them best in order to play along with your bandmates.

The buds seal out external sound a LOT (at least that’s what he told me) and he can adjust the volume of what he’s hearing. He said they are quite a bit more costly than regular stage onitors, but his band is so freakin’ loud onstage, he really needs to block out most of it.

Lemme see if I can get him to send me a link…

ETA: I just remembered, he also had to get his audiologist to make the mold of his ear.

It’s one of those regular things that the old 'uns keep telling the young 'uns, and the outcome is still the same, the young 'uns ignore them, until they become badly hearing old 'uns themselves.

You would think that with the decline of heavy engineering and many of the large factory processes, that nationally our hearing acuity would slowly improve.

According to this site, it is, but this relates only to having such bad hearing loss that it would count as a disability -50dB or more.

In the US figures already gathered suggest that hearing loss is increasing.

However you must also bear in mind that the average population age is increasing too as we all live longer.

Hearing loss is cumulative, if you lose part of it for longer than a few hours, you will not get it back. You will get used to it so much you don’t even notice that your hearing is permanently damaged, but over the years it all adds up.

That was quick. He said the buds he uses are from “Sensaphonics”. Their wesite lists clients like Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Coldplay. His is kinda big and looks like the one Sinead O’Connor is wearing here.

His block out a lot more external sound than the smaller buds, but the smaller buds are a lot more discreet and you can’t really see them from the audience.

Note: one of the reason he has to block out external sound is because they’ve got two drummers and it’s hard to avoid high noise levels onstage when you’re stanidng between two cymbals smashing away.

With everyone using good in-ears, the on-stage volume should be pretty quiet. I heard a talk by the soundman for a Christian rock band called Delirious! - his comment was that there was very little onstage sound (even the drummer uses sound isolation). Band members don’t compete with each other to hear themselves, so there is more room for dynamics. Things are not overdriven too hard - a better performance all round. And the band are really impressive live .


My buddy, Don, was teling me that their live performace tightened up quite a bit when they all started using in-ear monitors because the mix was considerably better since they weren’t getting all the acoustic interference from ambient noise bouncing around. With in-ear monitors, their hearing is protected from all the big, crashing, cochlea-crushing sound, while giving them a more customized mix. He says it feels more like playing in isolation booths of the studio.

It may increase the perceived *dynamic * range, but it really chokes down the *frequency * range, mostly clipping the highs (although there may be extremlely high-quality audiophile earplugs or something but I’ve never seen them).

I have never played a stage in a large venue, just bars, but being on a bar stage can be damn loud when you’re standing between a Leslie for a B3 on one side and the other guitarist’s Marshall stack.

Ted Nugent is nearly deaf on one side because he just wore one earplug, keeping the other ear open to hear the more realistic sound.