23 May 2008


I came across this article today - don't ask me how - that opines on rock / pop / etc. concerts and hearing damage. As an individual that relies on good hearing to feed my family, it goes without saying that I go to great lengths to protect my hearing. And, certainly, concerts can be one of the most dangerous places for a guy like me to visit. If I can help it, I am never without my custom-molded earplugs, especially when attending concerts. (Which, admittedly, is something I do not do very often these days.)
Nonetheless, I found one of the opinions in the article interesting:
"Here is an interesting anomaly: How can musicians put earplugs in their own ears to protect themselves from the decibel damage, yet don’t give a crap about the audience they are assaulting. Perhaps, if they turned down the volume, they wouldn’t need the ear plugs. Or, why not buy up a couple gross of them and hand them out to the audience at the door. Free of charge."
How, indeed? I think it's because "louder" is, still, "better" in the ears of many a musician. They believe that louder is what their fans want. And they are not necessarily wrong. The reason the average teen / young adult won't turn it down has been shown to be directly related to the adrenaline rush one gets from listening to loud music. Turn the amps down and there's no more adrenaline rush and most youths will think it just doesn't sound as good. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But that's reality.
A story I like to tell folks along these lines is about to two drastically different concert-going experiences of mine. On the eve of the almost-millennium (12/31/99 - don't get me started on that whole business), I attended the John Mellencamp concert at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indy. Loud does not even begin to describe it. The concert itself was very enjoyable. I grew up on Mellencamp and he managed to pack in all his hits (= my favs) into about 2 hours - right through midnight, in fact. But, my word, I have experienced very few concerts that were that loud in my life. Were it not for my earplugs, I would have departed before the end of the first song.
Contrastingly, I got to see Tori Amos play at The Palace down in Louisville, KY. When the lights went down, I donned my plugs in anticipation of the aural assault. Much to my delight, Tori started singing and I couldn't hear the vocals. Removing my plugs, I estimated the sound level of the concert to be about 75 dBA or so. (And I was sitting in the 11th or 12th row, slightly stage-left.) Needless to say, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I have ever attended.
Getting back to the point, I wonder, what are the musicians' or venue's responsibilities when it comes to protecting the hearing of fans / concert-goers? Most rock concerts are going to be around 100 dBA on average. Most fans are going to be there for, say, 2-3 hours. From an OSHA perspective, that's marginal in terms of potential hearing damage. (OSHA suggests 2 hours or less at 100 dBA.) But OSHA's role is to protect workers for hearing damage. By OSHA standards, the musician must wear hearing protection because he/she is working. Same for roadies, FOH staff, ushers, security, vending personnel, etc.
But fans make a conscious decision to be there. They pay for tickets and attend at their own volition. Thus, I would argue that it is neither the responsibility of the musicians, nor of the concert venue to supply hearing protection. If they did, that would certainly be a considerate thing to do. But they are not obligated.
Earplugs are cheap. If the concert-goer is truly concerned about their hearing, BYOE should be their standard M.O. It is for me. If musicians and / or concert venues wish to go the extra mile to protect their patrons, all the better.
But going to the concert in the first place is a personal choice. I think it would be far better to focus on educating the public on how they can inadvertently damage their hearing. In reality, if earplugs were handed out at the entrance to a concert, an overwhelming majority of the polyurethane nuggets would wind up in the nearest trash can. People just don't understand. Earplugs have a stigma attached to them. A couple, in fact:
  1. If I wear earplugs I won't be hearing the show, so I won't be getting my money's worth.
  2. Earplugs are for wussies who can't handle a little loud music.
Neither of these are true. But most people are simply ignorant about it. If we can help people understand that:
  • Just because it doesn't hurt doesn't mean there isn't damage - quite probably permanent and irreversible damage - being done,
  • The ringing in your ears that is still there at lunchtime the next day is not a good thing (certainly not a badge of pride, by any stretch),
  • Wearing earplugs when you're 22 is a whole lot cooler than wearing hearing aids when you're 40,

and, perhaps most importantly to some,

  • You can actually hear the concert better when you're wearing earplugs,
then I think handing earplugs out at the door would make a lot more sense.
Of course, another approach would be for musicians to embrace the entire concept of handing out free earplugs...and printing their logo and website address on each one. It would certainly give some artists the necessary incentive.
Now, there's a million-dollar idea... 8^D

14 May 2008

Architects and Sound - Part the Third

Continuing on a previous theme, here's another little piece from ProAV that is delving into the "us vs. them" of acousticians and architects.

We've been seeing quite a bit of this recently. Perhaps we'll all start to get along with each other in the near future? 8^D