No one likes hearing loss, but loud music is the norm
April 20, 2009 12:13 PM   Subscribe

How should I go about forming a group / coalition / movement for venues to lower the volume to levels that won't leave your ears ringing? More thoughts, ideas, and concepts inside.

I don't think I should have to wear earplugs of any sort to save my hearing at a concert. I understand that some venues have limited speaker locations, requiring the area near the speakers to be a lot louder than the far edges of the area, but most venues seem to amp up the volume well beyond what is necessary. If I buy ear plugs, it means only my hearing is being protected, and I want everyone to have a pleasant experience. I'm not looking to make a rock concert into background music, just to avoid having ringing in my ears the next day (or days).

I'm looking for input and ideas, from people who have started or been a part of some movement or group, and anything for my specific goal. I'm not looking to become a full-time advocate and devote my life to this, but I'd like to spread awareness to audiences, musicians, technicians, promoters, etc. Online petitions are silly, but a website could be a start. I imagine talking to people who run and set up venues, getting some decibel meters, and figuring out the limits for given crowds (small room with a sparse crowd means lower levels than if that room is packed and everyone is talking). I don't know much about acoustics and noise monitoring, but I know a college professor who does environmental noise monitoring and mitigation, so I imagine I'll be talking with him in the future.

I started thinking of this after going to a small club where the second DJ of the night increased the volume during his set to the point where my ears were ringing after a minute, while the prior DJ's music was just really loud. I know some people wear it as a badge of honor, but hearing loss lasts longer than the concert.
posted by filthy light thief to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In short, you can't. People who go regularly to concerts lose so much hearing that they can't get the best experience unless the volume is cranked up to injurious levels. Get earplugs and have as much fun as you can while saving your hearing.
posted by KRS at 12:17 PM on April 20, 2009

I want everyone to have a pleasant experience

Your idea of pleasant is clearly somewhat different than many others.

Extremely loud music cause physical sensations that many people expect and enjoy. I heartily encourage you to alter the trajectory of your crusade toward the more achievable, still admirable, and yet less busybody-ish, widespread use of earplugs.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:22 PM on April 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You might want to look at how smoking in bars was outlawed in California and elsewhere. It was a OSHA / employee protection action, not for the club goers.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2009

I don't think I should have to wear earplugs of any sort to save my hearing at a concert.

You don't have to -- you also have the option of not attending. Why do you feel the need to try to force people to do things your way?
posted by _Skull_ at 12:26 PM on April 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who has lost a lot of my hearing from going to too many concerts and not using earplugs, I admire your efforts. Even with earplugs in my ears, I still think a lot of shows are too loud. I would be interested to know what the average decibel reading is for a "really loud" show -- I'm guessing most places are pumping out levels that cause permanent hearing damage within 45 minutes or less. It has gotten ridiculous in the last few years.

I would suggest starting with your concert-going friends and educate them about hearing loss. Get a sound level meter and go measure a few shows to see how loud it gets, then calculate the time until permanent damage -- this sort of information is crucial. I think a lot of people think that 90 minutes at a loud show is not a concern, but it is.

Also, I would suggest getting custom made "musician" earplugs. They are about $150 but worth every penny. You don't get perfect attenuation across the entire frequency range, but it's a hell of a lot better than foam plugs.
posted by bengarland at 12:29 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Perhaps you might want to get involved with something like H.E.A.R.?
posted by platinum at 12:31 PM on April 20, 2009

You might notice at these venues that security and other people who are there every night wear earplugs. I have a pair like the ones that odinsdream linked to and take them to every show. I don't always wear them depending upon the volume, but they have been a Godsend at times. Modest Mouse puts on a great show, but it was so loud I might have had to leave if it hadn't been for the earplugs. Get a lanyard for them so that they are always at hand and if one comes out of your ear it won't get lost in the crowd. You can get both the plugs and a lanyard at your local Guitar Center.
posted by caddis at 12:39 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: I don't know much about starting things like this. A quick step one might be a Facebook group perhaps?

If you want to take it further you could write letters to the editor of your newspaper or alternative newpaper. It seems like having a variety of experts to qoute would help your case, so first call a local audiologist or three in addition to the college professor you know.

As I think about it, it seems like you've got two options regarding how to proceed at that point.
1)Go from the ground up. Talk to club owners and venues in your area. Get a petition together that tells them there are a significant number of people who would be more likely to go to their club/venue if they had a volume policy of no more than x decibels. See what kind of a reaction you get. If they seem open to the idea then you may be able to stop there.
2)Go from the top down. Armed with several expert opinions and a comprehensive plan call some city councillors or selectmen or whatever the equivalent in your community might be. You may even be able to get some freshman state senator to take this up if you present it well (and if you live in a small enough state), but be prepared to spoon feed them. They aren't going to want to go do the research to decide exactly what decibel level is appropriate, they'll just want you to tell them. Following up on Bottbrushtree's comment above would be helpful. The idea here is to get some city orninance or state law passed that says music venues of size x may play their music no louder than y decibels, while venues of size a or larger may play their music no louder than b decibels. If you go the government route then it could also be helpful to find a person in agreement with you who has actually suffered hearing loss as a result of this problem to present to them. It seems like politicians love an object lesson. If you have a hard time getting politicians to pay attention then call the local news station and ask them if they're interested in running a story about it. If they don't want to bother with it then organize some kind of a small demonstration for them to cover. Dress up like an ear or something. Local news loves sensationalism.

Good luck. I haven't gone to a show in years because I hate the ear pain that accompanies it.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 12:40 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Rather that berate you about your goal, let's make some legal analogies. What other sorts of things can cause major damage over an extended period of time that people in general prefer in the more dangerous way? Are these at all analogous to your opinion?

  • Ice-cream makes you gain lots of weight, and you prefer Fro-Yo. If ice-cream parlors were required to serve only the kind you like, people would be healthier.

  • Roller-coasters would be safer if they were slower and contained less scary drops. You prefer not to be at risk and also get frightened easily. Should you require that the theme parks slow their coasters down and make them less steep?

  • You don't think you should have to watch people grind on eachother at dance parties. It's gross, unhygienic, and if someone did it to you you would charge them with assault. Should there be a legal and enforced distance between dancers at discos?

  • Not saying these are identical, but the legal, ethical, and practical similarities between these and hearing loss from live music may help shed some light for you on whether and how to combat what you see as a problem, but others see as a fundamental and positive aspect of their experience.

    Alternatives to making loudness illegal: Mandating signs warning that hearing loss might occur, promoting the use of earplugs, requiring that clubs have earplugs on hand, encouraging or forming venues or nights of not loud music, and so on.
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

    I think you could do it effectively in your own city on a club to club basis. I don't think it'd work on a large scale (unless you are going to commit crazy time and resources to it) but I do know that concert goers do complain about certain venues. I remember in New Orleans that the House of Blues (pre-Katrina) was unfrickingbelievably loud in every inch of that place except the bathrooms and everyone complained about it.

    Also I would frame the campaign not as a "public health / prevention of hearing loss" project but more as a "customers are annoyed by the loudness and will be more willing to come back if you turn it down" project.

    So my suggestion is for you to petition outside of your most visited venue, and then give that very polite petition to the manager.
    posted by RajahKing at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2009

    The only thing (besides legal action) that clubs will consider is what brings in customers. Your task will be to demonstrate that lowering the volume will bring in more people than keeping it up loud-- a difficult and probably pointless endeavor.

    There's another piece to this that you may be considering: the running of a club is extremely fragmented and diffuse in most cases. The owner, manager, booker, sound person, and door/security are usually all different people, and it's been my experience (gigging for about 10 years now) that these people communicate very, very poorly. So even if you could get the owner to agree to keep the volume down, he will most likely not be around when the guy running sound cranks it to 11-- and none of the other staff will be the volume police in the owner's absence.

    I don't like it when people don't reply to an OP's question directly, so I'll apologize for doing it now. But seriously, your efforts might be better directed toward giving people earplugs (a la HEAR), or just focusing on saving your own hearing, than to try to convince a notoriously stubborn and inefficient bunch of people to risk losing customers.
    posted by Rykey at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2009

    oops! That should read "that you may NOT be considering."
    posted by Rykey at 1:41 PM on April 20, 2009

    Best answer: I've done this a bunch of times with different causes and the first steps are a lot like putting on a gig: you typically start with a small group of people, maybe only one or two, then you put out a bunch of flyers and posters etc. and try to get a larger group of people in one place at one time. Only instead of a gig you call in a meeting, and instead of bands you would have someone to do a short talk on the issue and then debates, brainstorming, decision making etc. Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

    So first I would identify one or to other people or groups who might want to work with you, then design some publicity that looks likes its advertising a gig but in fact is advertising your campaign and distribute it (ditto for myspace pages etc). Then hopefully you can come up with a few people to work with.

    From there you, or rather the new campaign, need to start doing some research on how you can tackle this, why its important etc. You will need to:
    • identify your target audiences and how to involve them: gig audiences, musicians, venue workers, venue owners etc identify some targets to aim for: legislation on sound levels, a voluntary agreement from venue owners, launching legal action on behalf of worker, raising audience awareness etc
    • identify how to achieve them: letter writing to local politicians, organizing a venue boycott, working with unions, handing out leaflets and ear plugs at gigs, working with venue owners to raise awareness, organize a quiet demo, ally with others (maybe a particular loud venue also has complaints from neighbours) etc
    • marshal supporting materials: maybe raise funds to commission your professor to produce a report on the local impact of reducing sound waves
    • identify other things you need/can do: send out press releases, raise funds, distribute newsletters, email groups, websites etc. Plus other indirect ways to have an impact like organizing a series of acoustic only gigs with local musician to show that it is viable.
    Then its a matter of prioritizing, getting people to do some of the work and so on.
    There are plenty of resources on this kind of thing out here. You can start here.
    posted by tallus at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I'd start by maybe giving out ear plugs at concerts, or talking your city/state/provincial politicians into making ear plugs available by law at all concerts. I usually bring my own, but once or twice I forgot them and was shocked to see the venue didn't have any for sale (most of the time someone behind the bar will give you them for free).
    posted by furtive at 2:31 PM on April 20, 2009

    No offense, but I would be really angered by a group that decided to tell musicians how and how they aren't allowed to make music. Period.

    Like you, I do care about hearing and hearing loss. I would suggest working with someone like HEAR or starting a similar organization.

    Ear plugs are quite a reasonable solution, but most people are not educated about the variety available, how to use them and how worthwhile a custom pair is.

    You are also free to support and promote music in your preferred dB range.
    posted by quarterframer at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2009

    Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback so far. It's all helpful, in focusing what I can do, and knowing what to not say. I don't want to be the crotchety old neighbor sitting on my porch and telling the kids to "turn it down," I want to get people like Quizicalcoatl back to shows they'd like to see. I think it's a sign if the hired security, who are inside the venue with me, are wearing ear plugs.

    I don't want this to be a flame-war, but I'll reply to the analogies to help clarify my concern. Hearing loss is not like weight gain from ice cream, the threat of danger from roller-coasters, or being "grossed out" by bumping and grinding. You can lose the weight from ice cream, roller-coasters are not designed to injure you, and what other people do on the dance floor doesn't do anything to / for me. Hearing loss is real and lasting.

    I'd love to support the music in my preferred dB range, but there's never any notice of how loud something will be. I went to a show last night and I was in the front of the room for the opening band, and my ears were fine. Then the headlining band went on, and the volume was amped up so my ears started hurting pretty quickly. Some bands which I'd consider to be less concerned with blowing your effin' mind with their overwhelming wall of sound have had some of the loudest shows I've been to.
    posted by filthy light thief at 2:48 PM on April 20, 2009

    I run sound, and I try to keep things at a reasonable volume for the shows that I do. I sometimes have people come up to me and ask me to turn it up. They want to feel the vibrations that you can't get through any other means than by turning it up too loud.

    Musicians earplugs are a godsend. The cheap little plastic tube ones that are supposed to give you even volumes across the sound spectrum are good to have on hand, and are certainly much better than regular earplugs, but don't work nearly as well as the musicians earplugs.

    I would suggest if you drive a car that you get a small box of the little foam plugs and stick a handfull of them in your glove box. This way you have some in case of emergency, and you can also give some to friends if needed. I always keep one pair of these in my wallet, in case I forget my musicians plugs:

    These are the smaller size, which work well if you have small ear canals. If not, than you should look into the regular size:
    posted by markblasco at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

    FYI, on volume levels, one of the venues that I used to work for (a major concert venue), one of the jobs of house technical staff was to monitor just that number - the volume of the concert. We required all acts to be less than 110dB as measured from 150 feet from the speakers. Even at that level (theoretically safe for occasional exposure), we all wore earplugs. Also, earplugs were generally available to anyone who asked guest services for them.
    posted by frwagon at 2:58 PM on April 20, 2009

    110dB is no where near safe. H.E.A.R. recommend no more than 30 minutes if exposure to 110 dB at a time.

    I agree strongly with what the original poster is trying to do but can't see anyway to change the situation. I have a problem where I can't often understand lyrics very well ... especially if the sound is cranked as high as it usually is at concerts. So many concerts for me may as well be instrumental only.
    posted by R343L at 3:10 PM on April 20, 2009

    Your idea of pleasant is clearly somewhat different than many others. -dirtdirt

    I think you should start by doing some research. What percentage of concert-goers actually enjoy these insane levels, and what percentage tolerate it or mitigate it with earplugs? Perhaps it's just the crowd I travel in, but none of my friends or family enjoy sound levels well past the pain threshold.

    Who are these uncomfortable concerts designed for? How many of the complainers in this thread actually enjoy these sound levels vs. simply don't want to be told what to do?
    posted by reeddavid at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: What?!?!?

    No, seriously, most arena shows are loud in order to combat reverb. If venues were better equipped with things to help dampen that (retractable noise baffling curtains that can extend from the ceiling, other acoustic deadening materials that can be put in place for shows, etc), everything could be MUCH softer.

    Case in point -- the NIN "With Teeth" tour in 2005 in Portland... the opening acts were loud, but when NIN took the stage, the first strike of noise LITERALLY moved the crowd backwards about two feet. It was too loud, even for an old concert hound like me.

    The NIN "Lights In The Sky" tour, where Trent had a lot more control over the production, they sold a LOT fewer seats in every arena, and hung dampening curtains all across what would have been the "nosebleed" section directly facing the stage (and therefore the speaker stacks.) The result, the sound was a LOT quieter, even too quiet during the Ghosts acoustic instrumentals during which the assholes around me kept chattering and not listening. I didn't leave with my ears ringing, and enjoyed the show much more.

    By complete contrast, a k.d. lang show I saw recently was so delicately miked (and in a really good acoustic hall) that it gave the impression of not being amplified at all. The audience had to be an audience, the performer got all the attention, and it was delicate and wonderful.
    posted by hippybear at 3:37 PM on April 20, 2009

    Response by poster: I've found some dB references and common misconceptions pages which address dangerous levels of noise and their day-to-day equivalents, as well as some studies on appreciated levels of sound. I'm not looking to ban loud shows, and getting something implemented as law seems like overkill. It would be pretty fantastic (I'd love if "the audience had to be an audience"), but I feel like that's the wrong way to go about it.
    posted by filthy light thief at 3:54 PM on April 20, 2009

    I've nothing to add, except I'm so glad it's not just me! I start to get pain in from my ears at relatively low sound levels, so I have to avoid any sort of music-related night out (earplugs help, but they're not enough for the sort of decibels most places pump out). I wonder how many people there are out there like me, who love music but are put off many concerts by the prospect of an evening of pain.

    Best of luck.
    posted by Coobeastie at 2:28 AM on April 21, 2009

    Firstly, it's not necessarily "volume" that causes hearing loss - it's distortion. If certain venues have bad kit and poor (hearing damaged, in all likelihood) sound engineers, distorted and harmful sound can be common. Educate and encourage DJs, bands and sound engineers how to use their equipment properly. Everyone's hearing is different but clipping is not good.

    Secondly, I really don't see how you can justify your argument by claiming that you should not "have to wear earplugs of any sort" at gigs and clubs. Yet you find it perfectly reasonable that artists' music should be compromised by your concerns. Furthermore, if you "want everyone to have a pleasant experience", why not let them listen to music at the volumes they desire? There are already severe problems with certain types of music being unable to find suitable venues due to borderline-draconian environmental health restrictions.

    There are two solutions for you (and others who are worried that their hearing is being damaged). You can either invest in a quality pair of earplugs that will let you listen at a volume comfortable to you or you can simply move further away from the speakers, especially the tops. Air has very good sound attenuation properties and moving just a few metres will bring harmful volumes down to acceptable levels. These solutions don't prevent others listening to volumes they are happy with and ensure that everyone can have what is, for them "a pleasant experience". Why does it matter that "there's never any notice of how loud something will be" - if it's too loud move back until it's okay or put in your earplugs. Your proposal means that the vast majority of people in the audience (as well as the artists that are entertaining you) have to put up with sacrifices to please you.

    Live and let live.
    posted by turkeyphant at 5:20 AM on April 23, 2009

    Response by poster: Can you clarify what kind of distortion causes hearing loss? I've only seen references to the decibel levels, which I've always equated with "volume". Some sources quote 120 dB as the pain threshold, and pain seems like a bad thing. But like I said earlier, I'm not on a crusade to make the world a quieter place. I don't think dance clubs and bars need to have music blaring to the point it causes pain, and I realize some punks, metal heads and rockers want to "feel" the music. I also understand it'll be louder closer to the speakers, but I've been to shows where it's painful everywhere, and in large venues, too.
    posted by filthy light thief at 4:20 PM on April 23, 2009

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