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VFest 2008: If It's Too Loud, You're Going Deaf

Posted by Roger Cullman / September 9, 2008

Sign of the Times at the Virgin Music Festival in TorontoWhile the slogan in the above billboard from this weekend's Virgin Music Festival sounds cool, hearing damage is no fun.

The loudness of a rock concert can easily exceed 100 decibels. Prolonged exposure to sounds this loud can result in hearing damage, permanent hearing loss and other unpleasant things like tinnitus.

It seems irresponsible for a consumer-conscious music event promoter like Virgin to, willy-nilly, promote hearing damage or sit idly while 40,000 concertgoers play russian roulette with their hearing.

One of the booths that caught my interest at VFest was the Soundcage by Sonomax booth. They were there to spread the message of hearing protection and sell custom-fitted earplugs and earphones for bands and fans.

"We want people to start thinking about hearing, the most undervalued sensory perception," says Nick Laperle, chief evangelist for Sonomax. "It's part of the experience not to have your ears buzz afterwards."

Moby doing a DJ set at the Bacardi B-Live Tent at the Virgin Music Festival in TorontoEven Moby (pictured above) wears protection during his DJ set. He's wearing earplugs under his over-the-ear headphones.

I've been going to loud clubs and concerts for over 15 years. I used to attend without wearing any earplugs. The cheap ear plugs I tried always muffled the sound to the point of ruining my enjoyment of the show, so I stopped wearing them. Then I smartened up and started wearing earplugs for at least part of the concert.

Earlier this year I splurged and bought some $16 Earlove earplugs, which were a bit of a step up. They claim to "reduce overall sound level while preserving sound quality." While that's a big improvement, they tended to feel a bit uncomfortable after a while.

A woman gets fitted for Soundcage earplugs by Sonomax during the Virgin Music Festival in TorontoSonomax is a Montreal-based company that's been around for about 10 years. They've been largely catering to the industrial market, but now they've got two products for consumers: custom-fitted earplugs (for $150) and custom-fitted earphones (for $250). Backstage, they've fitted hundreds of musicians, including all the members of The Foo Fighters (except Dave Grohl). But only a dozen or so concertgoers bought their product.

I decided to try the custom earplugs. It took about 15 minutes to get fitted, a pretty simple, noninvasive process. They insert a soft, orange silicone-like mold into each ear and make sure it fits well.

The earplugs are pretty comfortable and after a while I forget I've got them in. They're pretty inconspicuous, too. So you don't look like a dork like you might with those bright yellow or pink foam earplugs. I tried them out at the Bacardi B-Live Tent during Moby's set and the music still sounded decent. Only a tad quieter.

Nine-and-a-half-month old Jesse Evans wears ear protection during a concert at the Virgin Music Festival in TorontoLater in the evening I met Jesse Evans, a nine-and-a-half-month-old baby wearing ear protection (above). The mother, Melisa Evans said this was their first concert together.

"Acoustic trauma can happen with just one concert," warns Laperle. "So why take a risk?"

Even if you only do it just once, you wouldn't dream of having sex with a hooker without protection, right? So why take the risk with your hearing?

We protect our eyes with sunglasses and our skin with suntan lotion, it only makes sense that we protect our hearing. I don't feel pretty bad a few years down the road if I lost my hearing due to inadequate protection at a concert.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common, irreversible occupational hazard world-wide, according to the World Health Organization. And it's completely preventable.

"For factory workers, if they're exposed to 85 db for eight hours at a time, they require hearing protection," says Laperle. "But there's no such law for consumers."

If you're concerned with hearing damage or hearing loss, you may find Earlove's what is safe sound chart a useful guideline.

If you go to clubs or concerts, do you find the music too loud some/most/all of the time? What do you do to protect your hearing?

Photos by Roger Cullman.



Testing123 / September 9, 2008 at 09:34 am
"Even if you only do it just once, you wouldn't dream of having sex with a hooker without protection, right?"

Uh, hooker's not exactly the most respectful term. I think that would be "sex worker."

And besides, sex workers (except, perhaps, for some of the more drug-affected survival sex workers on the street) probably have a better track record for condom use than the average straight serial dater.

Everyone likes to think they use condoms on 100% of their hook-ups, sure, but that's far from reality, from what I hear from friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, and in magazines and the media. In reality, everyone slips up sometimes, and more often than they'd like to admit (including the safe sex zealots).

They figure they would never catch anything (despite the fact that straight men and women in their twenties are among the fastest-rising incidences of HIV infection these days), or they trust the partner swearing up and down that they're clean (until their herpes shows up again).

Maybe use a less offensive comparison next time. You would've thought you'd learn your sex-positive sensitivity lesson after that fundraiser post incident.
Jerrold / September 9, 2008 at 09:39 am
And don't be so offensive as to call him a pimp. The correct term is "sex worker agent". *rolls eyes*
Daryl / September 9, 2008 at 09:51 am
I personally find "earplug" an offensive term. We prefer to use the term "aural ambiance dampening apparatus". We'll let it slide this time, but one more blatant disregard of our lifestyle and expect a boycott!
Adam / September 9, 2008 at 11:19 am
Am I the only one that thinks it's kind of idiotic to bring a baby to an all-day music show?
Corina / September 9, 2008 at 12:39 pm
There were tons of kids at Vfest and it's prob good they had ear plugs available. Although I'm sure Roger thinks I'm going deaf, I always go sans-ear pluggage and really didn't find Vfest all that loud. It's in a huge outdoor space which helps dissipate the bass, and the Blive tent was at a very reasonable volume considering who was playing!
James / September 9, 2008 at 12:43 pm
Toronto concerts are often too loud - this is usually a venue-specific problem. The loudest venues - I don't think I need to name them - are all decrepit buildings with crappy sound systems.

Toronto dance clubs and "lounges" are almost ALWAYS too loud. It ruins what would otherwise be a fun time and makes it impossible to meet people. Not very flattering to try and chat up a girl over 120dB of music.

Adam: Why should kids and babies not be at a an all-ages concert? especially in a festival-format venue?
Mimi / September 10, 2008 at 01:47 pm
Testing123: I think it is sad that the only thing you took away from Roger's message is one 'offensive' word.

Jerrold, Daryl: You rock!

Adam: What is idiotic is to bring babies and children to concerts WITHOUT hearing protection. Otherwise, no. It's a great family activity.

Corina: My dear, Roger is probably right. If you don't think that these venues are loud, then you probably already have a hearing loss. Why not get your hearing tested (lots of places do it for free.) In any event, you should protect whatever you have left.

James, you're absolutely right. Did you know that in NorthAmerica there is a law in place that obliges companies to protect industrial workers exposed to noise above 90 decibels (dB). Sound pressure level doubles every 3 decibels which means that 93dB is TWICE as loud as 90dB. According to , harm can occur with 103 dBs after 7.5 minutes, 106 dBs after less than 4 minutes, 109 dBs after less than 2 minutes, and 115 dBs after around 30 seconds. So imagine that! We instantly dammage our hearing when being front stage center, or hanging out in a dance club... because yes, the noise levels are well over 110dB.
Randy / March 23, 2010 at 03:01 am
"Even if you only do it just once, you wouldn't dream of having sex with a hooker without protection, right?"

Except I'm not having sex with the band. I'm just listening to them. I shouldn't need anything in my ear to do that safely. There ought to be a law. At the very least, earplugs should be provided to everyone, at the band's expense.
Mike / January 16, 2011 at 01:11 am
"There ought to be a law"

Here we go again. Growing government and dumbing-down the general populous...

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