If you’re a regular concert goer, then already know the hazard of live music on your hearing. That ringing in your ears isn’t a badge of honor, it’s hearing loss. Taking care of your hearing should be a top priority for anyone, especially people who regularly attend EDM festivals. This is usually where they experience long hours (sometimes 3-day weekends) without enough rest and relaxation for the whole body, let alone the ears. Hearing protection is essential to experiencing electronic music events safely, and it’s not discussed nearly enough.
Unlike your other senses, hearing is a chemical and mechanical reaction to sound. Inside our ears are several components like the eardrum, some tiny bones, the auditory hearing nerves and others. When we listen to loud music without any hearing protection, we damage components from inside our ears. Putting a lot of stress and activity on these components inside our ears will cause their function to decline just like any machine we use like a car for example or the computer. As with the examples just mentioned, the damage will be noticed immediately: for example your car will stop, or your computer will heat up unusually. In the case of your ears, the damage will be done progressively and is not something that you will be able to notice on the short term. Hearing specialists describe hearing damage at EDM festivals like giving your ears a concussion. The ringing experienced after the event is similar in that sense.
We need to also mention another source of hearing loss which lies deeper in the brain, where nerve cells carry signals from the ear to neurons that process the sounds. Growing research shows that overloading those neural pathways with loud noises can disrupt the connection, creating situations where the neurons can’t detect the signals coming from the ear.
The World Health Organization released documentation that 1.1 BILLION people are at risk of hearing loss. That isn’t a million; it’s 1/7th of the entire population of the planet! Yet people still don’t take this epidemic seriously and protect themselves at events.
A typical EDM fan’s response to ear plugs is almost always negative. Fans consider them the “experience killers” of some sort. We will discuss below the importance and different types of earplugs, why they are important for your hearing health on the long term. If you are serious about experiencing EDM festivals and live music for a long period of time, then it is highly recommended that you keep reading and that you invest in earplugs.
Why Wear Earplugs?
Answering this question is quite simple. Damaging your hearing is something you can never get back. The ringing that your experience in your ears after a show is a sign of hearing damage. Technically speaking, Most live music (concerts or EDM festivals) reaches levels of between the range of 100 to 120-dB. At these levels, hearing damage can easily happen and fast!
According to Diane Novak, Au.D. Assistant Director at Northwestern Universit’s Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning, some issues include hearing loss, tinnitus (the perception of noise or ringing in the ears) and a decrease to sound tolerance (Hyperacusis). “Noise exposure is cumulative and often occurs over time without people knowing until the hearing decreases enough to cause difficulty communicating”
A common problem affecting 1 in 5 people (according to the Mayo Clinic) is Tinnitus and it can interfere with the enjoyment of playing and listening to music. “Once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed” said Dr. Novak.
In most EDM shows, festival goers want to feel the bass more and obviously cannot control the noise. Moving away from the sound source and limiting time spent listening to loud sounds are two important tips to take into consideration, but are they enough?
The smart thing to do is to wear earplugs.
There are several types of earplugs you can choose from. Ranging from your easy-on-the-wallet variety to custom earplugs that can cost you a couple of hundred dollars. All have their pros and cons.
Types of Earplugs
Those are the readily available, cheap types. We trust the world-known 3M brand. They have a universal fit and are not custom-made. They are inserted into the ear canal and offer a high level of decibel reduction. There is a downside to them though, because they need a bit of technique for best results, they may not be the best option if you need to regularly insert and remove them regularly. So proper insertion of these earplugs is required for maximum effectiveness. If you’re interested in that easily available type of earplugs, keep note that high-quality foam earplugs like Hearos are available at most chain stores. They offer maximum reduction in sound levels and are comfortable for external use.
This type of earplugs offers several rims or “lips” in a cone shape that will create a seal against the ear canal and also fit universally. The advantage of these earplugs is that they are foolproof to use. As long as they are properly inserted in your ears, they will provide you with good protection although not all of these types of earplugs are musician-quality. This doesn’t matter in this article since we are focusing mainly on the auditory safety requirements of EDM festival attendees. A good high quality brand to note here is the Etymotic ER-20. This is a high-fidelity flanged type earplug which is reusable, and offers a great sound just at safer levels.
You might have read or heard artists and DJs talking about getting their molds and casts to be fit with custom earplugs by some famous companies. These silicon made custom molds are contoured to the inside of your ear, promising the perfect unique fit, they eliminate the cause of any discomfort, and are offered by companies specializing in high-end audio and hearing devices, such as JH Audio, Sensaphonics, and Westone. Those are really worth checking out.
Custom earplugs are not cheap, they generally start at 100$ and up and need an additional visit to the audiologist who will make the mold. The filter in these is typically a 9, 15, or 25 dB attenuation filter a perfect amount so you can still hear the music and have conversations while wearing them. In addition to the above, we need to note that these custom earplugs come in two types: solid silicone, which can be used by everyone and another, a high-fidelity option for musicians.
A good example of earplugs (mainly for musicians) are of a brand called Erasers. These provide a great amount of comfort, are easy to be cleaned and washed, in addition to being small and quick to insert.
What people who attend electronic music festivals want from earplugs can be summarized in the points below:
- Clear sound: The earplugs should provide a great music experience but at a lower volume
- Discreet: They should not look weird
- Comfort: You shouldn’t feel them in your ear
- Ease of use: Easy to insert and remove
- Affordable: Earplugs should not be too expensive
Professional musicians have known for decades that there are excellent unobstrusive earplugs on the market that protect your ears from dangerous levels of sound without music quality distortion. Models similar to Etymotic which evenly lower noise levels by 20 dBs sell for less than 20$ and are reusable forever.
More Than Just Earplugs
Hearing loss isn’t just affected by earplugs and ear safety at an EDM festival. Weirdly enough, drug and alcohol use at these festivals have been shown to increase the risk of hearing loss.
A 2015 study in the Netherlands tracked EDM festival participants who attended an outdoor festival. Half of these attendees were given earplugs and half were not. All were advised to refrain from drugs or alcohol so that their hearing could be accurately tested after a 4.5-hour show. Data from the results showed that concertgoers who drank beer or used drugs like marijuana or MDMA suffered short-term hearing loss. Interestingly, the data showed the same happening with males, whether they were on drugs or not. But the data wasn’t clear if the changes were behavioral or biological.
What we know is that using drugs and/or alcohol decreases the person’s ability to self-monitor. So the person is more likely to forget the earplugs and all about their hearing safety during the event. Dancing and interacting with the crowds, they might come quite close to the sound sources and not even know the damage they’re causing to themselves. The point here, is that no matter what, you should make your hearing safety a priority, before and during the event to make sure you’re safe even when you’re judgment is off.
In the end, if you’re a festival-goer who doesn’t miss a chance to party and attend a lot of events during a single year, earplugs are a necessary investment. If you absolutely love the musical experience and want to hear every note, high-fidelity earplugs are great choice. For everyone else, foam earplugs will do just fine. With all what’s been discussed above, people need to be serious about their hearing and protecting it should be a top priority. So investing in a pair of custom earplugs will do you nothing but good.
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