Ear Protection & Drums. How Loud Is Too Loud?

Gareth Williams

New member
Hi, I was wondering if anybody had any advice about what level of decibel is safe to play without ear protection?

In band practice I stand pretty near to the drum kit as it’s a pretty small practice space and it’s on my right side, so I pretty much hear it all in my right ear.

Our drummer wears ear protection. Then we have the guitar and vocals really loud to hear over the the drums. We keep creeping it loader and louder but then our drummer keeps hitting the drums harder and harder. It’s getting louder and louder and I was wondering if I should get some ear protection myself. Does anybody know how loud should be safe and what is the best thing to get to measure the decibel where I’m standing?

Thanks for any advice.
Gareth
 

gecko zzed

Grumpy Mod
This link might be useful as a guide.

I have an SPL meter that I use to check loudness. When I'm monitoring recordings, the level is usually around 83db. However, I am not listening at this level for extended periods. If you have to do this, then it is worth getting ear protection

Harmful Noise Levels | HealthLink BC
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
I've spent the day today sticking up warning labels next to a drummer, and providing people with ear protection. A good compromise is 16dB I'm handing out 16dB ACS picato protection as we speak.
 

Gareth Williams

New member
Thanks Gecko it’s difficult to find the balance as some people’s ears are more sensitive. I have really sensitive ears and really good hearing, and certain loud noises cause me annoying aggravation. One thing that certainly does is pushing a chain of metal roll cages at work. I work in a supermarket and everything is transported about in these sort of shark cages on wheels! Then we fold them up and fit them together in a row interlocking.

I roll about five at a time and it just starts to cause my ears discomfort. I don’t bother getting ear protection as I only do it once a week and it’s not worth the hassle. At band practice it’s not noticeably aggravating me like the cages, yet! but I can tell it’s pushing in that direction.

Basically I’m going to get an SPL meter and see what it registers (near me) as max and as average, when we play any song, and I’ll post on here what it comes back as and take advice.

Does anybody know what is a good decibel meter? Apart from an app on a mobile phone as I don’t use a mobile. I’ve put in a Google search, got a loud of them on an Amazon page but could do with a bit of advice. Many of them say “hand held” which worries me because I thought, does that mean you literally have to be holding them to work? Because obviously I want it to register the sound level when I’m playing so I want to place it somewhere in the room, close to me, preferably at head height and register the sound level at it’s loudest when the band is playing (including me).

Thanks again, for any advice.
 

gecko zzed

Grumpy Mod
"Hand held" simply means you can hold it in your hand, i.e. it's portable. You don't need to be holding it in your hand to use it. You can put in on a bench or chair or a ladder or wherever you want.
 

Chili

Site Moderator
Man, if you're asking if you need hearing protection, then you probably do. The expanding foam ear plugs work well and they are really cheap. (Hint: don't buy them at Guitar Center) The one thing that takes a little getting used to is the feeling of being detached from the band.

I'm in two bands with polar opposite drummers. In one, we are begging the drummer to hit harder; the other drummer is LOUD AS F#CK!! (But damn he is good)
 

Gareth Williams

New member
Thanks guys, I got this UYIGAO SPL meter in the end. It looks pretty good to me. It should arrive before band practice on Wednesday. :-)
Digital Sound Level Meter, UYIGAO Mini Sound Measurement Testing Audio Noise Decibel,35dBA~135dBA Max/Min/Hold Mode with Auto LCD Screen Display: Amazon.co.uk: DIY & Tools

Goodness knows what I'm going to put it on to get it near my head height. I might just tape it to another mic stand with masking tape. I'm thinking I'll get ear protection if it's too high but if it's like 80-90dB or something that should be Ok. I would rather not use ear plugs because it will feel weird. We'll see how it goes and I'll post the results. Thanks again.
 

Mickster

Well-known member
As a point of info.........it's not just the db level that matters. It's also the exposure time. While 83-85 is a sort of threshold considered the basic "normal" max........even levels like those......for extended periods of time.......are considered damaging. The "safe" upper threshold is all about momentary exposure.

Maximum spikes over 90-95.......and over......are not good and exposure need to be very limited. While hearing damage can certainly be momentary.......ie a blast of some sort or any loud noise far above normal range.......most hearing damage is incremental over time. As well.......your age is a likely factor. As we age......our ears are slightly less and less able to "recover" (misleading term) and so hearing decline can come on with little warning. If you use hearing protection when you practice........and not when you perform........in the long run......that's still better than never using it at all.
 

TalismanRich

Well-known member
I think you'll be fine with that meter. You're not trying to document noise level for OSHA or HSE. In the thread where you were concerned with your Astron mic being overloaded, when it can handle 138dB, this will easily tell you if you are in the range. US OSHA says that 100dB is ok for 2 hours max, and 115dB is 15 min max per day. If you're hitting 130+dB, you better limit your band practices to less than 2 mins!

Workplace rules are pretty rigid and you need to have certified equipment operated by properly trained and approved professionals to make sure you are within the law. For US OSHA regs, you can have 90dB over 8 hours avg with peak maxiumums. After that you are required to have hearing protection available. While band practices probably aren't covered by OSHA, the meter should give you a good guideline of the types of sound levels you are encountering, so that you can take appropriate action. Its one of those "personal responsibility" things. You shouldn't need the government to tell you that you're doing something stupid.

I must say, one of the good things about the internet is that this type of information is now freely available. Back in the mid-late 60s, nobody cared about this type of stuff and I'm sure many of us are paying the price now. Think of all the rock stars that today have hearing issues (Pete Townsend, Sting, Clapton, Brian Johnson, even George Martin!) Kudos for you to actually think about things like this and take some type of preventive action!
 
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raybbj

Member
No need for an SPL meter. It you play in a live band, you need hearing protection. I played in a live band for 25 years and I ALWAYS played with industrial ear protectors (30 db reduction). It's a no brainer. I was the drummer. I would even wear my industrial ear muffs at live shows. My band mates would hate it that I would wear them because it didn't make me look like a cool rock n roller, but I didn't care. I had to protect my ears.

Plus, it really tightens up the sound. Get's rid of all the ear piercing, cymbals, vocal screams and guitar squeals and leaves nice tight, punch drums and bass.
 

VomitHatSteve

Hat STYLE. Not contents.
The expanding foam ear plugs work well and they are really cheap. (Hint: don't buy them at Guitar Center)

I recommend a hardware store, in fact. A bag of several dozen ear plug costs $15.

raybbj said:
I would even wear my industrial ear muffs at live shows. My band mates would hate it that I would wear them because it didn't make me look like a cool rock n roller, but I didn't care. I had to protect my ears.

You should probably accessorize your ear muffs. Drummer in generic ear protection? Boring and not very rock'n'roll. Drummer in shiny, bedazzled ear muffs? Kinda cool.
 

Johnny Don't!

New member
I will agree with; emphasize; and expand upon what a few others here have said:

1. If you are playing in a live band that rehearses in nearly any room with amps and a drummer (i.e., not headphone/IEM rehearsals), you need hearing protection, no question about it;

2. Forget the meters; it's a function of time, i.e., length of exposure. Sure, a really loud (120db or more, like a nearby thunderclap or gunshot from a pistol on the smaller side) but short sound can damage your hearing much more quickly than the same sound at a lower volume, but long-term exposure to even 75db (like a running lawn gas-powered lawnmower) of sound pressure can damage the nerves that comprise part of our hearing system. Noise is considered one of the most common occupational hazards of modern times, and that's just in general; think about about what that means for musicians.

I've been a professional musician (both touring and studio work/production/etc) for nearly 20 years, and I've used Westone custom earplugs the entire time. I can't recommend them enough. It'll cost ya, but they are worth every penny: my ears get sore from those cheapo foam earplugs meant for construction sites, and the foam cuts out way too much audio information. The Westone earplugs are a perfect fit; I can sleep with them in. Used to do it in the tour bus all the time. The filters they use are attenuated such that it's just like turning down the volume: it's an even cut across the frequency spectrum. The only drawback is the filters are pricey and are damaged or destroyed by moisture. I sweat like a whore in church when I play onstage, so when I was touring a lot, I went through a lot of filters. Thank you, sponsorship. :)

I know guys who are so protective of their ears, they wear earplugs when walking down the street in cities like Chicago or New York; they claim the sound of bus air brake systems damages their hearing. And if you're standing next to the drummer (especially on the ride side of the kit), that's a lot of potential hearing damage to protect yer ears from, mate. (And yes: I would say the sound of clanking/clattering shopping carts will definitely damage your hearing at certain frequencies over time.)

Have you ever heard a persistent ringing or high buzzing/whining in your ears that goes away after a short time? That's the last time you'll ever hear that specific frequency: it's the sound of that nerve dying. Those nerves rarely grow back, and if they do, it's at a snail's pace. That's how tinnitus starts.

So don't wait: use foam earplugs until you can get yer ears fitted for a proper pair of earplugs, and then protect them once you gots 'em.

Hope that helps.
 

Gareth Williams

New member
OMG, 115.7 dB! Every song was 115 point something, except one at 111.3dB, this reading was right next to me not at the kit. As well as that on one song she went absolutely ape whacking it and I could feel my ear getting aggravated badly by it. I didn't get this reading because I had accidentally pressed MIN on the meter instead of MAX and got the minimum reading instead. This would have been louder than 115 for sure! I will be getting ear protection for sure! I'll post what I get and how it feels to play with. I don't think I will be able to hear my vocal properly with the plugs :-( but we shall see!
 

TalismanRich

Well-known member
Good deal Gareth. Plus you now know that you are nowhere close to overloading the Spirit's 130dB limit, which was the original concern in your other post. It HAS to be just too high of a preamp setting if your are getting distorted recordings. Simple matter to turn down the knob or hit the pad, both of which should fix the problem

The SPL meter will also be handy when you play out. This past summer we had 3 major concert series locally, Bourbon and Beyond, Hometown Rising and Louder than Life. Each is a 3 day weekend concert, and there were a lot of poeple from neighborhoods complaining about the "noise" from the festival. In each case, the promoters could prove that they were staying within the sound levels specified, which were 105dB at the sound mixer position. It would probably be prudent to do a quick SPL check at your soundcheck, just to make sure you aren't assaulting the audience!
 

Gareth Williams

New member
Thanks. The Aston worked like a dream this time and all I changed was using the -20dB setting. It was a bit further from the kit than the meter (and me) but not a lot so it would have got pretty much the same SPL. 105dB for a gig outside? OMG. It would be louder than that on stage if we played!
 

TalismanRich

Well-known member
Remember that SPL drops 6dB every time you double distance, so you could do the math. The 105dB was at the mixing board, which is about 30-50 yards from the stage. It has to be that far back due to the majority of the sound coming from the flying PA speakers. I could hear the soundcheck of the drums at my house (about 3 miles away).
 

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Johnny Don't!

New member
I don't think I will be able to hear my vocal properly with the plugs :-( but we shall see!

Actually, plugging yer ears with those foam earplugs is a lot like plugging yer ear with a fingertip: it will make it easier to hear yer vocals when you are singing. I'd be more concerned about hearing your bandmates' playing with the construction earplugs than I would about hearing yer own singing.
 

Gareth Williams

New member
That concert area looks pretty big Rich, but I was just wondering, when you said the 105dB is measured at the mixing board, which is about 30-50 yards from the stage, is that also 30-50 yards from the speakers? Like are the flying PA speakers at the stage, like at the side of the stage?

Johnny, I don’t like the foam plugs. I’ve tried them at work. They’re annoying and start to fall out by themselves. I think I have quite small ear holes! I’m going to try to find something that definitely won’t come out when I’m playing. As I play guitar I won’t have my hands free to fiddle with them.

I’ve been looking at a few, and watching some vids on YT about them. I also what to see what they’ve got in my local music shop as then I can actually see them properly before buying. I think it will take a bit of experimentation to find the best ones for me. As always with music gear it’s never straight forward! :-)
 

Johnny Don't!

New member
Try Westone, mate. Just Google it, they come right up. They partner with audiologists all over the country to provide the molds and all that jazz. Trust me, it's worth every penny.
 
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