WORDS BY CATHERINE ANDERSON
ILLUSTRATIONS BY KELLY GARRETT
Inside my purse there is a small, zippered pouch. It’s bright red and covered with little flowers that have started to peel off slightly with wear. I suppose someone else might use this pouch to carry loose change or maybe some chapstick, advil, tissues - whatever random things you’d need while out and about. But inside MY pouch there are a couple dozen foam earplugs. I carefully move this pouch from bag to bag whenever I leave my apartment. Before a concert or a movie or a long trip, I anxiously check to make sure it’s with me before I leave. At concerts, I use this pouch to politely but aggressively pass out earplugs to my friends. At band practice, I am the only person that gets asked if I have earplugs when the other members inevitably forget their own. Basically, I am the Santa Clause of earplugs. The Earplug Mom, if you will.
I was originally going to write something about live sound at shows for this issue of Pizzacat. Alex (do you know who Alex is? You should. He MADE this zine.) had planted that idea in my head months ago. But honestly, I have no clue how to even talk about live sound. I’m much too preoccupied at most shows with making sure my hearing is adequately protected. I am never at a concert without earplugs in my ear. So instead, I’m going to write a probably slightly annoying plea to the readers to invest in some earplugs. And to, just every now and then, consider your hearing health. I love earplugs. I want you to love them too!
Now listen, sweet readers, I don’t want to scare you! But I’m 31 years old and I already have tinnitus. It’s not severe. I really only notice it at night when I’m trying to fall asleep (how fun!). But I can tell you that uh…it sucks. I’ve been doing audio engineering since high school and playing music since before that. Concerts have been a regular part of my life for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been playing in bands consistently since I was 22. That’s over a decade of slow damage to my hearing. And since I unfortunately don’t think I’ll be retiring any time soon, there isn’t an end in sight.
I didn’t start my earplug obsession until well after college. I cringe thinking about all the loud punk rock concerts I’ve been to in small basements - the musicians undoubtedly turning up their amps as high as they can get away with - without any ear protection. I probably even did this myself in my own bands, at my very own shows. And the fact that I am working with my ears nearly all day, often on headphones, is a challenge all on its own. Slowly, over time, I’ve trained myself to start the day off at the lowest possible volume I can tolerate, knowing I’ll inch it up throughout the day.
I am going to attempt some research here, so bear with me. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association cites 85db of loudness or higher as the potential danger zone when it comes to hearing loss and damage. For reference, this is slightly quieter than the sound of the subway or a motorcycle passing you by in the real world. There are a lot of factors that come into play once you get to this 85db of loudness and above. But as a general rule, the longer you listen to a sound above 85db, the worse off your ears are. The ASLHA gives these real world references for loudness that I found particularly helpful:
Looking at this list, it’s not hard to imagine how easy it is to potentially damage your hearing slowly everyday without realizing it. There are a ton of apps you can download on your smartphone that measure dB in the real world. This is a super helpful tool to have if you want to get mega nerdy about your hearing safety. Or you could just do what I do - carry earplugs with you and pop ‘em in for things like concerts, loud movies, and the occasional subway ride. The effort is low! The stakes are high!
Anyway, If you’re still reading this by now, thank you for indulging your Earplug Mom in a good old fashioned rant. It’s only because I care! I promise for the next issue I’ll write about something a bit more sexy and fun - like my favorite DAWs or how to maximize your CPU usage on a heavy session (just kidding I’m not writing about any of that). Until next time - happy earplugging!