Foam earplugs firmly in place, Charles Sielicki was ready to hear the band Tool at the Lollapalooza show in Mansfield, Mass. Between acts, the 39-year-old took out the plugs but said he'd be sure to reinsert them "just before the bands start."
For Sielicki, who goes to about five concerts a summer, the turning point was an Aerosmith show two years ago. Since then, he said, he always wears earplugs. "I like the foam ones. They take the highs out."
Noah Schaffer, 18, goes to several shows a week. He has been using silicon earplugs for nine months.
Dan Elliott, 27, who was buying foam plugs at a rock club in Boston, said: "I try to always have them and usually bring my own. I hate going home after a show and lying in bed with my ears ringing. I don't like the thought of going deaf."
Fans aren't the only ones protecting their hearing. More musicians have been turning to earplugs.
Anne Preven, singer for Edna-swap, just began using custom-made musicians' plugs after she started noticing a ringing in her ears after shows. "Being a singer, you stand right in front of the drums. I want to be able to hear in 15 years."
Though the majority of musicians and concertgoers play and listen to music unprotected, many more than before have started to practice safe sound.
"It's no longer the wild world of rock and roll," said Mahmod Shaikh, publicist for a live-music venue in Cambridge, Mass. "Earplugs are becoming like knee pads when Rollerblading." The club, which sells foam earplugs for $1 a pair, has seen sales steadily rising.
Although ear specialists disagree on whether occasional or frequent exposure to loud music at concerts results in permanently damaged hearing, "it clearly has a short-term effect," said Sandeep Kathju, a frequent concertgoer and an otolaryngologist in residency at Massachusetts Ear & Eye Infirmary. "For a brief period of time, there is decreased hearing and ringing in the ears. For most people, that resolves fairly quickly." Experts do agree that the longer the time of exposure and the higher sound frequency (more treble, less bass), the more likely it is that damage will occur.
Over the past several years, more musicians have spoken out about hearing loss, a change that health officials say has had a large impact on earplug use. Pete Townshend, John Lee Hooker, members of Metallica, Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer, and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth have had hearing losses.
The sound level at rock concerts can stay between 110 and 120 decibels, according to HEAR, Hearing Educational and Awareness for Rockers. Around 85 decibels is considered by audiologists to be acceptable.
Pub Date: 7/27/97