You might be surprised to learn that, as a record producer, one of the most important pieces of equipment you own is not your DAW or the latest plug-in you just downloaded…
So what is it? Well, its those things on the side of our head. Those that we completely forget about and use and abuse for years until we suddenly realise that we want to create music.
W.H.O (World Health Authority) stated in March 2018 that there are 466 million people (34 million are children) with a hearing loss that is disabling. This means they have an average loss that is greater than 40 dB in adults. This figure is estimated to rise to over 900 million by 2050. It is believed that recreational settings are accountable for placing 1.1 million young people, aged between 12-35 years at a risk of a hearing loss. These figures are frightening when you break them down more and realize that in 2050, W.H.O estimate that 1 in 10 will have a disabling hearing loss.
The impact of a hearing loss can be far-reaching. From communication issues, social problems including isolation and financial. Imagine owning speaker monitors that, unbeknown to you, suffered from a limited frequency range. Until another producer points out their deficiencies, you may be completely unaware. This effect is similar to hearing loss. It occurs so slowly that the affected person often doesn’t notice until it is highlighted by significant others.
We need to be aware of what constitutes potentially damaging noise and for how long we are exposed to it. The diagram below gives you some examples.
With the availability of apps for smartphones, it is easy to measure your daily environment. If you measure your speech, you will find that the average speech level is around 60 dB SPL. If you then measure some of the places you like to frequent, it will help you build an audio image of the exposure you are receiving. We live in a noisy world and employing a sound level meter is – if not eye-opening – ear opening.
It is recommended that hearing protection is used when exposed to sounds continuously over 80 dB.
Here are some sounds and their approximate decibel level:
- Vacuum cleaner – 60 dBHL
- Piano – 80 dBHL
- Lawn Mover – 100 dBHL
- Live band – 110 dBHL
This is why, as producers, we must protect our hearing.
It has been recognized for many years that when listening to personal audio devices we often monitor them at excessive volume levels for long periods. A guide that is promoted by many manufacturers of these devices is the 60/60 rule. This means the volume should be no louder than at 60% and for no longer than 60 minutes at this level.
In February this year (2018), a consultation group met at W.H.O, agreed that the development of a standard for safe listening with personal audio devices should be globally recognized. This standard is aimed at educating individuals with a number of safe listening messages. They also recommended a review of the existing standards for noise control for entertainment venues.
So by the end of 2018, we should be protected by international standards for noise levels but we must act now. We need to take control of our hearing. You know how important hearing is from the profession you have chosen. You have trained your ears. So you need to protect them.
This is a piece of hardware that can cost very little but is a significant investment in your music. There are different types that you can get and what follows is not a detailed comprehensive list. For that, I would recommend a visit to a registered audiologist.
Universal non-custom hearing protection.
There is an array of these available from single to multiple uses. They are not custom made to the client’s ear but with careful selection, it is possible to get some that not only fit well but offer good results. When selecting, consider what you will be doing, and if they will they stay in place?
Also, consider what they are made of and the different sizes available since we don’t all have the same size ears. A foam/silicon/plastic ear plug will reduce mid to high frequencies but allow low-frequency sounds to penetrate due to their low density. Metal with a foam tip earplugs are able to reduce the whole range of frequencies. When purchasing these, or any products, read the manufacturers guide on the length of time and sound levels they should be used in.
In this category, there are also the large circumaural ear defenders. Once again think why and when will you will be wearing these, they might not look great with those hologram glasses!!
Custom hearing protection.
These are obtained from an Audiologist/Hearing aid dispenser. They require an impression of the ear and are fitted with the appropriate filter. These are very comfortable to wear over long periods. The most important factor is that you recognize that your hearing is valuable and you care for it like you would your DAW or latest piece of hardware in the studio.
7-8 February 2018: a. WHO-ITU Consultation on the Make Listening Safe Initiative, Geneva, Switzerland http://www.who.int/deafness/make-listening-safe/Report-of-theWHO-ITU-consultation-on-the-Make-Listening-Safe-initiative-February-2018.pdf?ua=1