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How Loud Is Too Loud? A Discussion We Need to Have

The loudest show I ever attended was an Anvil gig at a place called the Norlander back in the early 80s.  The PA was turned up so high that dust fell from the ceiling like snow throughout the set and everyone’s internal organs were pushed several centimetres closer to their spinal columns.  People watch their sets with their fingers in their ears.  Others had to leave because the constant pummeling by low frequencies were making them physically ill.

Like everyone else back then, I didn’t give any thought to protecting my hearing.  Suffering from that muted underwater sensation for a few days after a show was considered to be a badge of honour.  “Dude, it was SO loud!  But I could take it.  You know what they say, man: if it’s too loud, you’re too old!”

I was an idiot.

The older I got, though, the more aware I became of the dangers of excessive volume.  What was the point of turning up the PA that loud?  It didn’t improve sound.  It made the audience uncomfortable. And it diminished everyone’s enjoyment of the show.

Today, I won’t go to a show without ear protection.  I somehow managed to weather the abuse and have maintained very good hearing–although when the room is quiet, the tinnitus is there.  I pray it doesn’t get worse.  (My mother has it and can’t fall asleep without the radio playing.  This means she spends way too much time listening to Coast to Coast.  But that’s another issue entirely.)

Pitchfork has this excellent article entitled “How Loud Is Too Loud?”  Thank God people are finally talking about the health issues that result from turning it up to 11.  Please read it.

And before you go to your next show, stop at Shopper’s Drug Mart and get yourself some of those foam earplugs.  They’re not perfect, but you’ll be amazed at the difference they make.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38296 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

6 thoughts on “How Loud Is Too Loud? A Discussion We Need to Have

  • I can’t recommend these enough:

    They’re relatively inexpensive, and sound way better than the Shopper’s earplugs. Just consider ebay or something. When I ordered from the website I got hit with a brokerage fee later.

  • I have Tinnitus as a result of time in the militia and being too dumb to wear proper protection while firing weapons and almost certainly from a Ted Nugent show around 1978. also a dumb choice in retrospect. it sucks large . Not enough to cause me to want to do myself in but….. It’s very annoying.

    I have a thought on the Loud show thing. As a guitarist i know i need to crank up my Tube amp to get that “Tone” i NEED! that Need is shared by almost every guitar player i know. Combine that with high wattage amplifiers and all the band needs to get louder so they are heard.

    funny line on Deep Purples 1972 Live album. ” Can we have everything louder than everything else” that is how it goes when you play live . Which I don’t at the moment but i’ll definitely be trying some earplugs next time.

    I do find most shows that i go to (Not Many these days) are too loud and sometimes painful.

  • I too have started wearing ear protection to shows. Some basic foam ones or the little rubber ‘tree’ type ones that you can get from a dispenser in any factory or workplace above 85db work great. They don’t eliminate the sounds or the range, they merely reduce the sound by 10-20 db, depending on their style. The cylindircal yellow foam ones usually have the highest sound reduction rating.

  • Thank heaven I had these foam plugs when I went to see Rammstein a couple years ago 😉 ! I don’t go to concert without them.

  • Two words “Blue Rodeo”.

  • This article made me think about my hearing and i was wondering if those ETY ear plugs were available locally ,which led me to an audiologist. I liked the info on his site (he cators to musicians and has written a book on hearing protection for musicians) so i made an appointment for a hearing test. I have a pretty severe drop off at about 2k hz . And my ringing ears are related to that. He says a hearing aid can help a lot. And that newer ones are so customizable he can tune it to pass the low frequencies i can hear ok and just boost the highs i’m missing. They are expensive so it will be a while before i can sort it out but I’m looking forward to hearing some music properly again!


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