How To Protect Your Hearing

How To Protect Your Hearing

DJs, producers and musicians, in general, use their hearing very intensively. Not only this but sufficient hearing is an absolute necessity in the industry. Many musicians will become desensitised to loud sounds, claiming its part of the job while shrugging off any discomfort they may experience whilst on the job. As much as that’s true, there are ways to continue working in music whilst protecting and being responsible for the long-term effects on your hearing. The bad news is: hearing damage will only get worse over time and can often be irreversible.

The good news: it’s never too late to take action to protect the hearing capabilities you have left. In this article, let’s discuss a few strategies for keeping your eardrums happy and healthy.

Wear Earplugs

Whether you’re playing or attending a rave or concert, it should always be a priority for you to wear earplugs. PA systems and loudspeakers can do some serious damage to your ears and thus your hearing abilities. This will result in tinnitus or 'ringing in the ears'. This is a continuous ringing sound for which there is no current cure. Tinnitus can also be caused by infections and other health issues so if you are experiencing it for a long period of time you may wish to consult a doctor. If you are struggling with tinnitus please contact Tinnitus Support UK.

Earplugs can cut a lot of the noise out making it safer to be in a loud environment for a longer amount of time. In a job or hobby where you are exposed to loud noises for a long time, not wearing earplugs can have an irreversible effect on your hearing. So if you're listening to music at about 90 decibels regularly then the recommended time is about 2 hours, but if you’re listening at 100 decibels, this period of time quickly decreases to 15 minutes. If in doubt ask your employer about this risks associated with noise in your work place. If they can't answer your questions then ask them to do some research and give them a time limit to reply to your request. Your employer should take action to protect your hearing at the workplace.

If you are a DJ you are normally self-employed so it's your responsibility to protect your own hearing.

There is a lot of debate as to whether earplugs take away the enjoyment of listening to music or reduce the audio quality to an unbearable level, but rest assured there has been a lot of scientific research into earplugs and as a result, there have been many developed models that just reduce the volume but retain the quality. Good custom-moulded earplugs will also feature a flat frequency response, so the music will sound the same, just quieter. There are many on the market place and Musicians Union recommend using their scheme to get a discount. Read more about how you can get a discount here.

Noise induced hearing loss is 100% irreversible but is 100% preventable. (Paul Checkley, Musicians Hearing Services)

Dubs Ear Plugs

The 60 for 60 Rule 

The 60 for 60 rule refers to the practice of not exceeding 60% of the maximum volume on whichever device you are playing music on. The other 60 refers to the number of minutes you should be taking a break after listening on your device. We all know how tempting it is to crank the volume up a little louder, especially if your favourite song comes on, so maybe consider setting a volume limiter on your device. 

When we teach DJing and music production we always take a break half way through the two-hour session for this reason to protect your hearing and your tutors hearing.

Understand the Signs of Ear Fatigue 

Just like any other part of your body, your ears can get tired when you’re using them intensely. And when you keep using them without a break, they’ll get tired a lot faster. When your ears are fatigued, your ability to make objective decisions about your track will suffer. For example, if your ears are tired, you may find that you are much more likely to get stuck in a loop, listening to the same 16 bars over and over. Moreover, if you’re DJing at a club, your ears may become too fatigued to beatmatch correctly. One of the most effective ways to combat ear fatigue is to give yourself a break when making music; I’d suggest at least 5 – 10 minutes every hour. Get up and walk around, take your dog outside, and go for a break. Keeping your body in motion will have a positive effect on your posture, mood, and energy level, in addition to protecting your hearing health.

Get used to working with music at a lower level 

We all get it. It’s so much fun to blast music when you’re producing, especially if you’re excited about the cool idea you just came up with. There’s nothing wrong with playing your track loud a couple of times, maybe at the end of your session to check your work, but avoid the temptation to produce with your speakers cranked all the way up for the entire session. As we’ve already discussed, being physically near loud sound sources for an extended period will eventually cause tragically avoidable damage.

Instead, try producing or mixing with your speakers or headphones as quietly as possible. This will not only preserve your hearing but also improve your mixes. If your track ‘pops out of the speakers when you’re playing it quietly, that usually means you’ve nailed it and the track will sound even better when you play it loud. Although monitoring mixes at high DB levels might be necessary for some professional studio environments, there’s no need to stick to this in your home studio. In fact, many professional engineers are aware of the dangers of long-term noise exposure and are now calibrating their monitoring systems to even lower sound pressure levels.

Understand SPL (Sound Pressure Levels)

So you now understand the importance of working on music at a reasonable level. But all this understanding is undermined if you don’t actually know how loud your level is! One of the most important parts of calibrating your studio is understanding how noisy your environment actually is by measuring the sound pressure level. To do this you can download an SPL metre app on your smartphone. If you don’t have a phone, an SPL analyser can be purchased as a stand-alone device. Keep this device in check when practising for the next gig. You can also keep it by your turntable or computer when performing live. If you are close to exceeding the sound pressure limits recommended by HSE, take a step out of the room or apply ear protection. Take a look below to see the OSHA BPL limits. It’s a scary but necessary thought!

  • 90dBA - 8 hours before permanent hearing loss
  • 95dBA - 4 hours before permanent hearing loss
  • 100dBA - 2 hours before permanent hearing loss
  • 105dBA - 1 hour before permanent hearing loss
SPL Meter

Harm reduction in the Club 

As the DJ we know it’s not always easy to control your club environment, especially when you’re lower down on the roster. Although It’s still important to reduce as much strain on your ears as possible. If you can, position the DJ booth behind the speakers to avoid the brunt of the damaging sound. Some DJs also like to wear discreet earplugs whilst DJing, underneath their headphones. If you’re considering doing this though, it's important not to skimp out on the quality of your earplugs, so you can only lose volume and none of the essential frequencies of the tracks you’re mixing with. If you’re staying to watch your mates play or the headliner, make sure you take breaks! Spend time in the smoking area or go to the bar for a bit. You won’t be missing out simply by spending time taking care of your ears. In fact, it might make you appreciate those moments stood by the speakers even more. 








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