By Rick Hughey
I have been a musician for many years – specifically a drummer and percussionist who has played in myriad and varied settings. While many of the applicable instruments and sound effects upon which I perform can be played very quietly, some inherently create higher volume pressures. When I was younger I never really worried about possible hearing damage and did not want to distort the natural sounds emanating from the instruments that I (and others played) via the use of traditional ear plugs. However, about 25 years ago I had an epiphany of sorts and I still remember the moment vividly. At that time, I had begun performing with an electric blues band, and hadn’t had too many hearing difficulties. That is, until one night on stage while we were playing a classic Texas double shuffle our lead guitarist turned around to face me, shouting “louder backbeats, play louder back beats!” Well, I cranked-up the two and the four on the snare drum a notch, but the guitarist still wanted more–rim shots for the accents. I tried to comply, but rim shots are in the same sonic spectrum as gun shots, so you can guess how loud that that might be. Needless to say I was not comfortable playing like that without hearing protection.
That led me to try basic over the counter earplugs, but they were uncomfortable and they attenuated the frequencies unevenly, meaning that my perception of musical balance was affected and thus my playing was as well. I next tried standard issue musician earplugs which performed slightly better than the pharmacy specials, but were actually more uncomfortable to the point of irritating my ear canals. They also did not want to stay in place properly. Fortunately, I soon thereafter heard an audiologist’s presentation at a local service club and had a chance to ask her about molded musician earplugs. I followed up and discovered that the molded earplugs were affordable and that the process of making them was simple. I ended up getting two sets, one with a 25 dB reduction for playing in amplified situations and one with a 15 dB cut for concert going.
I had those custom plugs for years, but I misplaced one of the 25s and the 15s gradually lost their original fit. I also knew that refinements to such devices had been made in the interim. Therefore, it was time to explore new custom earplugs.
Where to go for the new devices? Well, it turned out to be a clear cut choice—Constance Brown Hearing Centers, right here in Kalamazoo. This is a fine organization with a sparkling reputation, but I had always associated it with hearing testing and hearing aids. But, when I asked around about where to go for the custom plugs, Constance Brown’s name kept coming up. So that is where I went and I’m very happy that I did.
Constance Brown’s staff are great to work with and the process of having the molds made was easy. And, rather than just sending one’s new plugs in the mail, Constance Brown invites you back to ensure a proper fit. My two sets of custom molded musician earplugs fit fantastically well, much better than my old pairs ever did and the sound quality is great. I cannot recommend fitted musician earplugs enough. Indeed, they are truly worth the investment. And not just drummers benefit from them. For instance, a colleague of mine who is an accomplished violinist utilizes such custom musician earplugs during chamber music and orchestral rehearsals. In fact, everyone can benefit from a 15dB pair if they attend amplified performances.
And, one more thought: do not wait to explore this hearing protection option. Your ears are meant to last as long as you do, so please do what you can to take care of them. If you have any questions or concerns at all, give the good folks at this outstanding Kalamazoo Non-profit organization a call.