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Is it ethical to play at ear-damaging volume levels?

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  • Is it ethical to play at ear-damaging volume levels?

    I just got back from a Vacation in Prague where I heard performances by the Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony and Prague State Opera. I also did a lot of cruising town squares filled with buskers (some electric and loud) and a few lounges where amplified music was being played. I posted a busking question in the Singles and Duos forum, and it got me thinking about this.

    Some of the amplified buskers and lounges were so loud that I didn't want to get close for fear of damaging my ears (so they lost my business). I suspect volumes of +110dba and yet they attracted crowds of listeners.

    I know that loud music feels good, volume is a drug, and loudness covers up pitch problems and other shortcomings to a point.

    On the other hand, I know that volumes of +100 should be listened to for only a few minutes per day and volumes of 110 or greater should be avoided at all costs because they cause irreversible damage to the ears.

    The general audience member doesn't know this, so there is a probability that the loud music performers will inflict permanent physical damage to unsuspecting audience members that come to their performance.

    Should there be some responsibility to the musician? A warning label? Controlled volume? Or something else? After we know we are damaging their hearing and possibly making their old age miserable, and many of them do not know that, they just trust that we aren't harming them - or more correctly - don't even have the knowledge to think about it.


    Is it right to cause permanent damage to your audiences ears? Is it ethical to do that?

    Would you like it if someone inflicted any kind of permanent damage to you when you went to see them? Ear damage? Knock a few teeth out? Poke out an eye? Are these simply different degrees of the same thing? Or is the ear damage excusable because it doesn't hurt?

    Does "Do unto others" come into effect here?

    What do you think?

    Insights and incites by Notes
    Bob "Notes" Norton
    Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
    Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
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  • #2
    I wore hearing protection since I started playing live. I can still hear 13kHz, which is pretty amazing given that I'm 132 years old. I never go to a concert without hearing protection because I never know how loud the band is going to play. I wear hearing protection on planes (but not the kind that seals my ears) and often when walking around cities.

    Unfortunately people often choose really loud volumes. Some of the levels people crank music to in their headphones is scary. We are going to have a generation of people with serious hearing loss if they don't wise up.
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    • #3
      Concerts started to get extremely loud in the mid 90s and it has just gotten louder. I cannot enjoy the music anymore so I simply don`t go.
      Is it unethical? To me it is but no one cares…. The loudness at concerts is just another branch of the constant distraction we face in modern day society. Its a constant bombardment of the senses and I want no part of it.


      • #4
        I use custom fit Etymotic ear plugs when gigging, and keep older pairs with me wherever I go. I protect my own hearing and have done so over 30 years not. Nothing higher than 85dba reaches my eardrums.

        However, I'm starting to think that I should take responsibility for my audience. For the last few years, during sound checks, I'm sending someone out with a SPL meter and running the volume at the closest table to 85dba. That can make it lower than the people are used to hearing the music though, and there are times when I've felt the need to crank it up, or even been asked to crank it up.

        And that's where I start feeling like I might be damaging the ears of some of the most important people in my life, my audience.

        Insights, incites, and pondering by Notes.
        Bob "Notes" Norton
        Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
        Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
        The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


        • #5
          When we were kids we not only knew that rock concerts were ear-damagingly loud, but we were proud to have endured them. Especially if our parents warned us about hearing damage. The Who played at 126db in 1976 and they and their fans were apparently quite proud of that record. It didn't start in the 90s.

          Is it ETHICAL? Hmmm. I dunno. That's too subjective a question for me to consider. Should bands be more responsible about it? Probably. Would it make any difference? Probably not. Ultimately we're all responsible for our own bodies. Whether that's drugs, unsafe sex or loud music.


          • #6
            I've suffered from tinnitus and the dreaded dip at 4K for years now. But other than driving my wife crazy saying "wha???" too much, I'm holding up pretty well, considering, Had my hearing checked a few years back and the doc said he was surprised how good my ears were and that they weren't much worse than a typical 50 year old man.

            We started using IEMs a few years ago in large part to finally get away from having ringing ears after a gig. Plus they cut down on gear we haul around and take up a lot less room on stage than wedges. And they sound pretty awesome too, And should the band ever be playing too loud through the PA they make for a great ear plug.


            • #7
              I think there's probably an advantage for buskers who play moderately loud - they're trying to attract an audience, and the further their sound travels, the more ears it will potentially reach, and the more ears, the greater the chances that some will be intrigued or like what they're hearing and seek out the source. The more people who do that, the more money that potentially gets dropped into the busker's open guitar case.

              Of course that means higher SPL exposure for those who are nearby. But then again, most people who watch and listen to someone busking typically only hang around for a song or two, so the exposure time vs decibels is probably not too problematic.

              High SPL concerts OTOH, are a completely different matter.
              Last edited by Phil O'Keefe; 10-17-2014, 12:34 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Ernest Buckley View Post
                Concerts started to get extremely loud in the mid 90s and it has just gotten louder.
                Guess you never went to many concerts in the 70's and 80's.


                • #9
                  I know loud is ear-damaging, and I see more in the press than there was when I was younger, but I don't know if the average audience member knows that.

                  My wife goes to an aerobics class, and the volume there can top 110db (she wears her 25db ear filters). I've been to people's houses where the TV is definitely over 90db. I don't go to movies anymore because it's too loud (and too cold) - instead I rent Netflix. So we are all constant exposed to loud sounds. And you have a point about people being responsible for themselves.

                  On the other hand, most people don't own a SPL meter, and they go into the aerobics class, movie theater and night club and don't even think about the volume.

                  When we do our sound check, people are curious seeing Leilani out there with her SPL meter. When she says we want to make sure our volume won't damage your ears, they often say, "We never thought about that".

                  There is a very old song, "You Always Hurt The One You Love" - I love my audience, but I really don't want to hurt them.

                  I'm still pondering the ethical side of it. If they go to the movies, take an aerobics class, listen to their iPods too loud, turn their TVs up, is my concern important or not. On the other hand, some of the audience might not do these things.

                  Insights and incites by Notes
                  Bob "Notes" Norton
                  Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
                  Style and Fake disks for Band-in-a-Box
                  The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


                  • #10
                    Everyone knows that loud sounds can damage your hearing. That's simple common knowledge like "don't stare into the sun".

                    the question is: to what degree do people care? And that's often a matter of age. Younger people believe they are indestructible. I don't think its in the press more today, it's just now a bigger concern of yours than it was decades ago so it's something you pay attention to where before you more likely ignored it.

                    when I was playing with loud rock bands during the 80s we all knew the volume levels were putting our long term hearing health at risk. We also all made the concious choice to endure it rather than wear hearing protection or turn down because we felt we needed to hear things at that volume. No one to blame but ourselves.

                    are movie theaters actually louder and colder than they used to be? Perhaps. But just as likely is you're more sensitive to these things than you were at 30. Not to mention all the other reasons you prefer staying home.

                    . When I was 30 I would go to the movies probably twice a month and go see a live band or a DJ at least that often. Now I'm lucky to do that twice a year. Is because it's too loud one of the reasons? Probably. But had it all been quieter back then would I be going out more now? I doubt it.


                    • #11
                      "He’s referring to the standard level at which movies should be played back in movie theaters. There are no regulations on volume for film makers or movie theaters, only an industry standard. McCarty explained, “The calibrated level is supposed to be 85dB(c), when using a test signal from the cinema processor. This calibrated level has been in place, around the world, for at least 40 year, and the cinema processors, when calibrated to this level, are supposed to set their volume controls on “7” to playback the calibrated level.” "
                      Dr. Bedolla referred to a recent report in the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal showing just how loud movies have become.
                      “Certain types of high-spectacle movies, such as Transformers, have decibel levels of 90 for almost the entire movie and have decibel levels of 120 for significant periods and at some points get to 130 decibels. Now 130 decibels is a jet engine at about 10 meters,” says Dr. Bedolla.
                      He suggests more research is needed to determine if loud movie noise even in short bursts can lead to hearing damage. He added, “You may have damage and not even know about it, and it will catch up to you when you are 50 or 60 years and you will have significantly decreased hearing .”



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                      • #12
                        Typical sound gig last night - I "specialize" in reasonable SPL levels and in this little bar I had a single stack (RCF310A over two subs - capable of being 115dbc at 20 feet). I mostly sat 20 feet away on the side opposite the stack with my iPad mixing wirelessly on a Mackie DL1608 where is was a bit louder than I like but it was a hard rock band so I try to be a bit flexible . I didn't have the earplugs in once we got going and I'm pretty damned anal about protecting my ears. The other end of the bar where the pool table was you could converse normally . Then there was a bunch of "band followers" who stood 3-6 feet from the stack all night, 115dbc+ I'd guess - you can't fix stoopid LOL. I feel I did my part ethically giving folks the opportunity to choose what SPL zone they wanted to hang out in...
                        Last edited by RoadRanger; 11-01-2014, 05:39 PM.


                        • #13
                          Sometime in the future when the history of rock n roll is written, its death knell may be remembered as the day rockers started discussing the ethics of playing too loud.

                          Or the day they started discussing ethics at all...


                          • #14
                            Loud is PC. Generally the idea seems to be desensitizing of the masses. Environmental confinement.
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                            • #15
                              The whole rock n roll thing...It's all a communist plot anyway.