We talked recently about protecting your hearing on stage, which is vitally important if you want to continue performing for any length of time. What’s not talked about as often is protecting your hearing as a studio musician, engineer, mixer, or producer.
It probably won’t come as a shock to find out that recording studios can be just as loud as stages, and the same risks are inherent in working in a studio.
Not only are live drums common, so are all the other rock-n-roll basics – loud guitar cabinets, booming bass amps, and screaming keyboards. In addition, monitor speakers are often cranked up, headphones are blasted, and sessions can go for hours and hours, which can build up a cumulative listening fatigue.
So, it’s just as important to take care of your hearing in the studio as out on the stage. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
In The Studio
Limit headphone volume (and time) – Common wisdom is that you shouldn’t do much mixing in headphones anyway (although there’s debate around that in modern recording), but you should also try to keep volume and exposure time reasonable during tracking, editing, and mastering sessions.
Mix at low levels – Another common bit of wisdom which is not debated is mixing should be done at comfortable volumes. Generally, try to mix at a low enough volume that you could have a conversation while playing back the track. This will help protect your hearing and have the added benefit of making your mixes stronger.
Get away from the sound – It may seem obvious but increasing the distance between you and a sound source – say a big loudspeaker or a drum kit – is a good idea whenever possible. While you’re at it, moving yourself off the main axis of a source (by moving to the side) will also help lessen the impact of loud sources.
Take breaks – Just as on stage, make sure sessions include break time, and try to find a quiet spot for some down time. Don’t listen to other tunes or really anything, if you can help it.
Get an SPL meter – A sound pressure level meter is a crucial tool for the studio, not only when you want to calibrate speakers, but also so you can make sure you’re staying within healthy level listening levels. Many engineers place an SPL meter on the desk so that clients can see when the levels are too high, which may discourage them from constantly asking for more volume.
Out Of the Studio
Especially if you’re a studio professional, you’ll want to protect your hearing when you’re not in the studio too. Here are a few good habits to keep.
Carry ear plugs – You could find yourself at a concert, in a noisy bar, or next to a jackhammer almost any time. Carry a set of ear plugs with you at all times and use them liberally.
Stay aware of your aural surroundings – Being alert and aware of noise levels in the environment around you is crucial if your ears are your living. Trains, traffic, yelling, ball games – you’ll want to understand the effect various environments could have on your ears.
Turn off the car radio – After a long day of work, most of us may want to jam on the way home. If you’ve been using your ears all day, though, consider turning the car radio off on the way home.
Quiet time at home – Make sure you have time (and space) at home to rest your ears. As an audio professional, you may spend more time without the TV or stereo on than other people. Doing so will help you in the long run.
Get checked – As a professional listener, you’ll want to get a regular hearing check up to keep tabs on your hearing health. Doing so may just help you head off permanent damage and will certainly keep you on track.
If you take your hearing health seriously, you should be able to make records for your whole life without issue.
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