If you are a fan of music, then it’s very likely that there will be times you attend a concert. You may see and hear many different types of ensembles. These could include anything from a classical string quartet, a school marching band, a symphony orchestra, a folk group, a country band, or even a hard-driving metal band. Regardless of your preferred genre, it’s important to know that your ears need to be protected from potentially dangerous noise levels.
Obviously, some musical performances are going to be louder than others. For example, someone listening to a single singer with an acoustic guitar isn’t going to be exposed to the same volume as the person attending a school band concert, or especially a rock concert. Rock acts in particular typically play very loudly. Those who leave rock concerts with ringing ears can certainly attest to such a statement. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rock musician yourself or a fan that attends concerts, because the fact of the matter is this: Many rock concerts will produce noise levels of 110-120 decibels, which is nearly as loud as the sound of a pneumatic drill blasting through concrete or a jet airliner at takeoff.
To make matters more serious, some rock bands have been measured at noise levels as high as 130 decibels. Exposure to such a volume will cause PSH (permanent shift of hearing), which is partial deafness. The Who, a well-known British rock band, once set a Guinness world record as being the loudest band on the planet, and today, guitarist Pete Townsend suffers from irreparable hearing damage.
Even repeated exposure to levels of 85 decibels (roughly the sound level of a lawn mower or motorcycle), can result in permanent hearing loss. So how can a concert-goer, or for that matter, a musician, take steps to protect his or her hearing? According to an article published by the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles in 2008, the following habits should be observed:
The longest time anyone should be exposed to a noise level of 85 decibels is said to be about 8 hours, but it’s a good idea to get away from it and rest your ears several times for a period of 15 minutes. The higher the decibels, the shorter the tolerance. For instance, the maximum time anyone should be exposed to 100 decibels is about 15 minutes. So much for that 3-hour rock concert blasting at 120 decibels without protection!
If your occupation allows, stay away from noisy environments as much as possible. This would include any setting where you have to shout to simply hold a conversation, such as a noisy bar, operating loud power tools or machinery, and of course, loud concerts. If this is unavoidable, it is prudent to wear hearing protection. Foam, silicone, or pre-molded earplugs are made to reduce environmental noise, and in fact, hearing protection is typically mandatory if you work in construction or just about any kind of manufacturing facility.
When attending a concert, stay as far back as possible. If you insist on closer seats, at least make sure they are not situated near stage monitors, amplifiers, or the PA system.
Finally, if you suspect your hearing has gone south, make an appointment with an ear specialist and have your hearing evaluated. Trained professionals can help in preventing further damage.
If more musicians and concert-goers would follow the advice listed above, a lot of hearing loss could be prevented. It’s no fun having constant ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and having to ask everyone to repeat what they just said. A natural and gradual loss of hearing does come with age, but a middle-aged person shouldn’t have the hearing of an 85-year-old. Don’t become one of those statistics. Whether you are a musician or enjoy watching musicians perform, play it safe and always wear adequate ear protection.