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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tinnitus Imprisoning Me

posted by on April 3 at 13:11 PM


Some music needs to be loud. Played loud, heard loud, and felt in your chest. Sometimes ears need to bleed. Volume is like fire. It can greatly enhance, but it can also greatly damage. Ringing ears are an audio-society’s double-edged rite of passage. Ears ring like a battle wound. The allure and strength of volume is what draws many to turn it up and or listen without earplugs. That same allure and strength can also ensure your hearing will never be the same again. Cranking it up is a sacred right of empowerment, but you’ve been warned.

I consulted audiologist Tamara Phelps at Virginia Mason:

How do you know when a concert is too loud? Is Metallica too loud?
Phelps: We can safely listen to sound at 85 decibels for about eight hours. If volume gets up to 88 decibels, our safe listening time drops to four hours. Music pumped directly into the ears on headphones at 94 db is only safe for one hour. I’m not sure about Metallica. The average level of a rock concert is 103.4 decibels. A dog barks at about 85 db. A busy street can get up to 75 db.

I saw Metallica in Atlanta and I think it was too loud. They went into “One” with the “Darkness imprisoning me” part and the double-kick. My ears rung for days. Do you know that “Darkness imprisoning me” part?
I’m sorry to say I don’t know that part. It does get dark in Seattle though. It’s not so much the high decibel level that causes the damage as it is how long you listen to those high levels. Chronic exposure to excessive noise causes tinnitus.

You should totally check out Metallica’s And Justice for All. At the concert, this statue crumbled to the ground. It was fake, but it still ruled. Can you explain tinnitus?
It’s pronounced ti-NIGHT-us. Tinnitus is that ringing in your ears. Sometimes it can be debilitating. Most tinnitus comes from damage to microscopic endings of the hearing nerves in the inner ear. The health of these nerve endings is important for acute hearing. Loud noise is the leading cause of tinnitus.

Do you think I could sue Metallica for being too loud?
You could but I don’t think you’d win. Clubs get sued sometimes too.

And the Ipod? I crank my Ipod.
People don’t think about that a lot. The portable music devices are doing just as much damage. People listen to their Ipods for hours and hours, you know? I’d say limit your listening time or be more conscious of the volume. I read a study that said a maximum permissible noise dose would typically be reached within one hour of listening with the volume control set to 70% of the maximum. Also everyone should GET EARPLUGS.

Yeah, but rock isn’t rock if it’s quiet.
Well, how rock is rock if you’re deaf?

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i went to an audiologist myself. they gave me a hearing test and took a mold of my ear- a warm plasticy fluid that hardens really quickly. the whole process was really fast and easy.

they're one of the best purchases i've ever made. i still have the same ones i bought years ago, but i've bought several new filters for them. you can change out the filters to adjust the amount of attenuation you want. i usually have the -10db in for practices, and -20db for shows. *note* -10db at a flat level of attenuation like these give you about the equiv. of -30db of the shitty drugstore foam kind, but it's an even attenuation across the whole eq spectrum, not just the high frequencies that the foam ones cut out.

Posted by Animals at Night | April 3, 2008 1:14 PM

I wear earplugs whenever I go to shows now, but I have tinnitus so any loud noises are painful for me. My band practices at a low volume level, but if we play loud I wear earplugs. I didn't wear them when I was younger playing live or when I worked live sound. That was until I started having ringing that was too loud. Now it comes and goes. As far as everyone else goes, I say if you don't go out often don't worry. If you do go out to loud shows a couple of times a week or even a couple of times a month, wear them. Repeat exposure at shows or onstage will eventually cause most people to have hearing damage. Most foam earplugs will drop the decibel level 26db to 33db. With most loud live shows coming in at over 100db those plugs put you into the safe range. More expensive earplugs can do just as good and help still hear clearly. I know it may be hard to get used to if you play, but you can get used to it.

Without them, I can't guarantee that someone will eventually have tinnitus, but I know plenty of other musicians my age that have it. I don't mind having the constant low level ringing, but when it hurts or gets louder it sucks.

Posted by Dr. Heavy | April 3, 2008 1:16 PM
Yeah, but rock isn’t rock if it’s quiet. Well, how rock is rock if you’re deaf?


I hate wearing earplugs. Earplugs are like condomns. I will wear them if I have to, but it doesn't sound the same or feel the same.

That said, I am always saying: What? Huh? What was that?


Posted by Jeff | April 3, 2008 1:30 PM

I know, she zung the shit out of me.

Posted by trent moorman | April 3, 2008 1:32 PM

I am pro earplugs. I had a pair of the nicer-than-foam $12 Etymotics, which I used all the time, and then I lost them. Now I use the crappy foam ones again. I need to go ahead and get the full on molded jobbies; those things are badass. I'm just afraid of losing them . . .

Posted by Levislade | April 3, 2008 1:58 PM

Anybody who goes to a lot of shows should have a set of attenuating earplugs. As previously mentioned they don't muffle sounds like foam plugs, just compresses to take things down to a safe level, and everything still sounds great.

As Megan said, her ears were ringing like shit after she forgot her earplugs for this show:
Mine were fine and I was standing in front of the speakers the entire time.

I got mine here, FAST shipping A++++++++++ ;)

You can get the same ones at Amazon

Posted by MK | April 3, 2008 2:06 PM
Posted by MK | April 3, 2008 2:07 PM

The faster you go deaf, the more time you have to read.

Posted by Paulus | April 3, 2008 2:07 PM

I'm getting some Hearos. Washable!

Posted by trent moorman | April 3, 2008 2:11 PM

AND it says they're for Rock!!!!!

Posted by MK | April 3, 2008 2:16 PM

Anyone have an audiologist they'd recommend?

I've been meaning to do this for years and keep putting it off; with a full slate of shows ahead, there will never be a better time.

Posted by rlv | April 3, 2008 2:37 PM

Shit, I gotta get earplugs, too. Lately at work, I've just been hiding around the corner while the bands play. No disrespect, but goddamn do I get the ringing ears sometimes.

Posted by Jason Josephes | April 3, 2008 2:45 PM

I've heard a couple people mention Virginia Mason for audiologists.

For what it's worth:

Posted by trent moorman | April 3, 2008 2:54 PM

thanks to dr heavy, and the fucking F train brakes, i've had a 5.5 kHz ringing in my left ear for about 10 years. I guess marsha and me are a little bit to blame for this too .. . but i prefer to blame the MTA. and dr heavy.

Posted by bosch | April 3, 2008 2:55 PM

I have a pair of the molded ones, but one of the filters broke and I'm a lazy fuck, so I've been using the $20 Hearos (I think they're in the blue package..) and they actually do a pretty good job. But shit, I really gotta just get some new filters for the other ones. They worked great.

Posted by drum guy | April 3, 2008 4:01 PM

With earplugs, I've always had a "it's better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them" attitude. I'll wear them if a show is uncomfortably loud, but otherwise, they stay in my pocket.

Of course, as I've gotten older, more and more things are getting uncomfortably loud. Weak sauce all around.

Posted by T | April 3, 2008 4:02 PM

i really should wear earplugs, but i don't.

i went to my first concert at age 11 & i have been booking shows for 10 years & my hearing still seems fine.

but i should pay the $$ for the form fitted plugs.

Posted by b. foss | April 3, 2008 4:16 PM

Thanks for giving me 50% of the blame for your hearing woes Bosch. I believe you have played in several bands are you sure it was all me.

I believe you played a mean guitar back in the day as well. Those searing leads singing from your Goldtop left a lasting impression on my ears as well. But I think some of the other times I bathed myself in sound might have something more to do with it. My ears are ringing right now, it's like having a little fairy playing synth inside my ear, if she was in Whitehouse.

Posted by drheavy | April 3, 2008 4:32 PM

I don't wear earplugs. It's really hard for me to get comfortable and "in the moment' when playing live shows (my mind is usually racing a mile a minute filled with meaningless stuff), and earplugs change the sound so much that it's almost impossible for me to get into it when wearing earplugs.

I've never worn earplugs at a show but most shows I go to are pretty low volume anyway (I'm a big fat wuss) that I've never come home with my ears ringing... I don't wear earplugs... should I? I probably should.

I think I already have some hearing loss and that's incredibly stupid of me. I should get over the diva sound quality thing and maintain my hearing. Next tour for sure.

Posted by Pecknold | April 3, 2008 5:00 PM

something to do with metal on metal (literally) at 130 dB in the lecture
hall? here comes maggie!

Posted by bosch | April 3, 2008 5:23 PM

Awesome interview.

I can't believe the lady didn't know the "darkness imprisoning me part."

And she calls herself an audiologist?

Posted by Anna | April 3, 2008 8:07 PM

The rock Hearos are ok. They attenuate about 12 dB and don't muffle the highs TOO much. That said, they really are like condoms, in that the sensual experience is still, uh, dampened. The high end Etymotics are the best I've tried, maybe the best that are available, and as someone mentioned, you can change out the filters depending on the intensity of whoever you're listening to. They're pricey but if you can afford them, get them. One thing though - They're custom molded to fit WAY down in your ear canal. That's exactly why they reproduce sound better than other earplugs, but some people really have discomfort with things sitting that deep in their ears, which would be a drag to find out about after spending all that money.

As for an audiologist, most ENT surgeons (otolaryngologists) will have one on their staff, who can do the molds for you at a nominal cost, and you likely won't have to see the doctor at all. You don't necessarily have to go to Virginia Mason or any big institution to get it done.

Posted by rk | April 3, 2008 8:37 PM

This post and its comments are awesome. Thank you.

Posted by rtw | April 3, 2008 9:10 PM

Those Hearos from Guitar Center are just rebranded Etymotics. If you look at the specs they are exactly the same and they look the same too. They seem to work pretty well.

I've had the molded ones for years now. They work well. I lost one of mine the last night of SXSW this year. Ruined my night. I need to get it replaced now. Not psyched about spending $100. But over the long run, it's worth, especially if you are a musician or someone who sees a lot of shows (I am both and have probably averaged around 110 night of live music a year since moving here in the early 1990s).

Bottom line. If you go to a lot of shows, use the plugs. I've been pretty good about wearing earplugs going back the 1970s, when I was in high school. My dad is a musician. He played brass in big bands and orchestras. He has worn hearing aides since he was in his last 30s. Loud sound might not be the only reason he lost his hearing, but it can't have helped.

All I know is that when I had my hearing tested for the first molded plugs around 6-7 years ago, the audiologist said that I had among the best hearing she had ever tested, especially for someone pushing 40.

So I think it pays to take care of your hearing.

Posted by j-lon | April 7, 2008 1:10 PM

I bought the Hearos Xmas tree style plugs a long time ago. I wear them to see shows and to play at shows. I wear them to rehearsals.

I went to see a show last week and forgot them and I was bummed. :(

Someone once told me, "without ears, there would be no music."

Posted by gwon | April 7, 2008 2:37 PM

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