How do DJs protect their ears?
The definitive guide to protecting your ears while DJing
There’s nothing more valuable to a DJ than their ears. You’ve probably found this article as you want to protect your ears while DJ-ing. We’re here to help you.
Whether you’ve just started your DJ career or a veteran of the DJ industry, it’s vital you look after your ears.
So why should you protect your ears while DJ-ing and what can you do to prevent future hearing problems?
Let‘s answer this and more in our definitive guide to protecting ears while DJ-ing.
- Why DJs need to protect their ears
- The problem with DJing in loud environments
- Ear protection products for DJs
- Planning your DJ schedule to give your ears a break
- Don’t practice at club volumes
- Limit exposure before and after sets
- Set up monitor speakers away from DJ gear
- Turn down the monitors in between mixes
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Your ears are your biggest asset
- More DJ ear protection advice
Have you ever wondered what the effect of being around loud music all the time is? What the constant club and festival nights are doing to your ears? What being a DJ in the middle of it all next to the speakers or near loud monitors means for your long-term hearing?
This probably isn’t surprising, many DJs are constantly around loud music for long periods of time. But developing hearing problems like these isn’t something you want to happen to you if you can help it.
Noise-induced hearing loss is when the structures and nerve fibres found in the inner ear that respond to sound get damaged due to excessive noise and cannot be corrected through medical or surgical means.
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ear that won’t go away. It’s normally caused by an underlying condition, but constant exposure to loud sounds can make it worse.
Hyperacusis is a problem with loudness perception. People with this condition perceive noises to be painfully louder than they actually are, often finding sounds unbearable.
Conditions like these are not uncommon among professionals in the music industry.
One study has found that out of professional musicians, 35% suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, more than 25% experience tinnitus and over 20% have hyperacusis.
In fact, a University of Manchester study has found that those in the music industry are almost twice as likely to develop tinnitus as those in an office environment.
And it can affect anyone too, no matter how rich or famous you are. Well-known sufferers of hearing loss include the likes of Chris Martin of Coldplay, Ozzy Osbourne and the Gallagher brothers of Oasis.
Losing your hearing is an upsetting and annoying thing to happen to anyone. For those who work in the music industry though, it can be a career-ending stroke of misfortune. Your ears are your biggest asset. Without them there to guide you, you simply can’t practice or play.
So why do some DJs lose their hearing? And why is it so common in this industry?
The problem with being around clubs, festivals and especially DJ booths for your hearing is, not surprisingly, exposure to high levels of volume. Most experts agree that anything over 85 decibels (dB) is potentially bad for your ears and your hearing. To give you some idea of how loud this is, here is the volume of some common everyday things in decibels:
- Breathing – 10 dB
- A ticking clock – 20db
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- A washing machine – 70 dB
- A motorcycle motor running – 95 dB
- An approaching subway train – 100 dB
- Nightclubs and bars – 110 dB
As you can see, nightclubs and bars come in at 110 dB, meaning these events are loud enough to be considered bad for your hearing. As the DJ, you’re likely even more exposed because you tend to be in the middle of the action in loud DJ booths.
Ever been playing at a great event and felt tempted to turn the volume right up? All DJs have! But it can be detrimental to your hearing, as anything over 120 dB can cause our ears instant harm.
It’s not just how loud the music is though. It’s also how long you’re exposed to it.
It is believed that short increments of 10 minutes, 20 minutes and perhaps even 30 minutes of loud music might be ok for you. But anything over this begins to have negative consequences.
Listening to loud music for longer than 30 minutes is bad enough, but even worse is doing this again and again throughout the week over the course of many years. You are essentially not giving your ears the time they need to rest.
This is how problems like Tinnitus can develop and progress. It’s thought that one in 10 UK adults have minor tinnitus, while roughly 1% have it to a degree that affects day-to-day life. For DJs playing regular sets, the risk is naturally much higher. While treatments can alleviate symptoms, there is no known cure for this condition.
Also, we seem to be more sensitive to certain frequencies. Those mid-range frequencies between 3000 and 6000 Hz appear to be the worst for our ears.
To make matters worst, we become desensitized to the loud volumes after a certain amount of time, making us more likely to turn it up and give our ears even more of a hard time.
So, if you’re regularly doing very loud gigs for extended periods of time that include these frequencies, you’re probably at a much higher risk of developing hearing problems down the line.
Of course, you could always get hearing aids at a later stage when you need them, but these can be expensive and are far from an ideal choice. The best option would be to avoid the problem before it even emerges.
So, how can you protect your ears as a DJ? Check out my top tips below on how to do just that.
Now that you’re aware of the problems DJs face and the health implications of not being careful, let’s take a look at some products that can help you to look after your ears while you DJ.
Some of the best DJs in the world regularly use these products to help protect their ears, so if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you too.
Foam earplugs are probably the first thing you think of when asking the question how do I protect my ears as a DJ?
They are available from many locations such as shops and pharmacies and provide you with some protection against the loud volumes you’re inevitably exposed to as a DJ. Simply fit them into your ears and you’re away.
While they might be a quick, easy and cheap option though, they’re not the best choice you could make. For such a low price, they offer less protection than some other more pricey alternatives.
Sure, they’re better than nothing and will go a long way to protecting your hearing during a set, but they’re still not the best at protecting what is probably your most valuable asset, your ears. If however you haven’t got much to spend, check out this pair of foam earplugs for a great bargain.
Custom earplugs are moulded to your ears. They’re created from a mould of your ear by skilled professionals, ensuring you get the best fit possible. This makes them more comfortable and your experience as a DJ more enjoyable.
Also, since it’s more comfortable to wear them during a set, you’re more likely to keep wearing them. Many people buy something and use it for a week before never picking it up again. With custom earplugs, you’re less likely to do this.
A good pair of custom earplugs may also be able to filter out those dangerous mid-range frequencies, giving you the same clarity but at a lower level.
So custom earplugs are a good option in terms of comfort and they can be pretty effective. If this sounds like the option for you, check out this great custom moulded pair of earplugs from.
As for standard foam earplugs though, if you want the best protection you can get for what is arguably your most important asset, there might be better options out there.
In-ear monitors are in-ear devices musicians often use to listen to their music when they are playing during a performance. They involve three separate parts, a transmitter, a receiver and a pair of earphones.
The transmitter picks up the noise the audience can hear and sends it to the receiver. The receiver is normally worn as a belt pack around the waist. It is attached to the headphones which are then used to listen to the music sent from the receiver.
The earphones use noise cancellation to block out unwanted sounds, allowing the monitor mix to be heard via the earphones with near-perfect clarity. They also allow you to turn down the music to the level you want, giving your ears a much-needed break.
In-ear monitors are an excellent option for protecting your hearing. They tend to be a little on the pricey side, especially compared to cheap, readily alternatives like foam earplugs.
They are however well worth the price if you care about your hearing and don’t want to develop conditions like noise-induced hearing loss, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis later down the line. If this sounds like the best way to protect your ears, check out this dynamic in-ear set.
While protection is a great idea and there are some wonderful products available, there are some other options that will help reduce the amount of exposure you’re ears get to loud music venues. It’s worth considering these if you plan on making a long term career from DJ-ing.
Even if you’re a veteran of the DJ industry I still recommend considering these scheduling tips to give your ears a break.
Avoid back-to-back gigs
If you’ve recently started out and you’re only just beginning to get back-to-back gigs, this might not feel like an option for you. But you should know that it’s a good piece of advice that should be incorporated into your schedule if possible.
The problem of listening to loud music is made significantly worse when it happens over a long period of time. Doing back-to-back gigs will expose your ears to potentially dangerous levels of volume without giving them the time they need to rest in between.
It might feel wrong to turn down opportunities to play when you’re new and need to become established. But remember, your have many years to make a name for yourself. Plus a lifetime of good hearing will let you continue playing for decades to come.
Limit frequent long sets
Just like for back-to-back gigs, frequent long sets keep your ears exposed to potentially dangerous volumes for longer without giving them time to recover. And again, it might feel like you can’t say no if you’re just starting out. New DJs will likely feel that they should take the work wherever it comes, even if it involves long sets multiple times a week.
But frequently accepting these slots may damage your ears in the long run. As mentioned earlier, loud music of around 100 dB may be ok for your ears if listened to in small increments of 10 minutes, 20 minutes and maybe even 30 minutes. You probably won’t get any gigs involving a set this short, but the longer you play the more potential damage you do to your hearing.
When planning your schedule, try to avoid these kinds of slots wherever possible. You may sometimes have to accept them, but try not to make them a frequent, long-term aspect of your work life. Also, talk to your potential employers about the damage long sets can do to your ears. Most people are reasonable and will try to think of a solution to a problem if they can.
It might sound obvious, but you’d probably be surprised at just how much louder you’re likely playing during practice than you need to be. Many people even play at the club level to get a feel for what it would be like during the real thing in front of the crowds.
But this can put your hearing in jeopardy. Playing at volumes above 100 dB is bad enough, but if you’re doing it when practising as well as when playing, you’re exposing your ears to a whole lot of noise for a long time.
As mentioned earlier, when you combine loud volumes with prolonged exposure, you’re a lot more likely to suffer hearing loss and other related problems.
Not only could this make you lose your hearing in the long run, but it also isn’t strictly necessary. Sure, you might have a better understanding of how loud it will be on the night, but this won’t always give you a better idea about the quality of your music.
You can play a little quieter and still get a good idea of how the music fits together.
And if you feel the need to experience the “real thing” before you play in front of others, then why not practice most of the time at a lower volume and only turn it up once you’re happy with what you’ve got? This has the benefits of less exposure to high volumes and, if you think you need it, the ability to listen to your set as it’ll be on the night.
If you play at a club, you probably get into the venue before you’re due to start playing. You might get there half an hour or maybe a few hours early. Then you might leave half an hour or a few hours late.
Sometimes it can feel like a good idea to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Or perhaps you want to get a feel for what others are playing and what the crowd is responding to help you with your set.
Either way, the earlier you turn up and the later you leave, the longer you’re exposed to loud music. It may seem not important, but when you add the amount of time you turn up early or stay late for to how long you play your set, it can become quite a long time.
The best way to avoid prolonged exposure is to limit the amount of time you spend around loud music. Turning up not too early to your set and not hanging around after are therefore good ideas.
And if you do turn up early or decide to hang around after, it’s best to protect yourself by wearing a good pair of earplugs. You can still get a feel for the atmosphere before playing by occasionally taking them out. But you won’t be exposed to loud volumes for such a long time, helping to protect your ears.
If your DJ setup includes monitor speakers then I’m sure you’ll be aware of the affect they can have on your hearing. The maximum exposure you receive is likely to be right next to the monitor speakers.
There’s a reason people often complain of temporary hearing loss when they stand next to the speakers at a gig, it’s not different for DJs.
This solution might not be perfect or practical all the time, but it could be manageable. If you’re regularly DJing you probably don’t want to be right next to the monitor speakers for hours at time, every night you play a gig.
That temporary hearing loss people often complain about from converts, festivals and nightclubs can become permanent. In the DJ booth you’re right in the firing line for all that noise.
If you’re a mobile DJ or wedding DJ then this can still apply, even if you don’t use a monitor speaker you can apply this solution to your main speakers.
Setting up the speakers further away from the DJ equipment is a good idea to help reduce the impact on your ears.
Doing this can help to limit the amount of pressure you put your ears under by reducing the volume you experience when playing your set.
Not only that but any peaks in volume that can occur, are less likely to cause damage as the power of the sound waves weaken over distance.
Another top tip to protect your ears as a DJ is to turn down the monitor in between mixes. The speakers inside the booth will give you an idea of what everyone outside are listening. You might want to turn them right up to know what others are experiencing on the floor.
But doing this every time will almost certainly increase your likelihood of developing hearing problems later on. Turning down these speakers will help to reduce the amount of strain on your ears and still give you a good idea of what’s going on outside the booth.
And of course, if you want to really experience what’s going on outside to better judge how well your set’s going, you can always turn up the music temporarily before turning it back down again. High volumes aren’t perfect, but reducing the amount of time your ears are exposed is a big help.
A final piece of advice to protect your ears as a DJ is to leave the drink behind when playing. It can be tempting sometimes to have a few drinks before or during your set. The atmosphere is good and you want to enjoy the night. It’s natural.
Maybe some impulsive decisions under the influence of alcohol can be fun once in a while. After all, dancing all night or deciding to take the mike at karaoke isn’t so bad, right?
But we all make reckless decisions when we’ve had a drink too. Think about how many times you’ve seen someone take a risky decision that wasn’t really worth it after a few.
One of these reckless decisions as a DJ often involves turning up the volume. It’s simple. The more you drink, the more likely you are to not care about your long-term hearing because you’re too busy having fun right now. Leaving the drink behind will make you less likely to do this and more likely to protect your ears.
To sum everything up, protecting your ears is very important as a DJ. They’re arguably your biggest asset and are the key to why you can make money as a DJ.
There are many ways you can and should protect them. So let’s summarise what we’ve learnt today.
You can purchase ear protection for all budget levels. Everything from foam earplugs on the less expensive but less effective end of the scale. Custom earplugs and in-ear monitors on the more expensive but also more effective end of the scale.
Remember to properly plan your schedule. Avoiding multiple back-to-back gigs and limiting frequent long sets as these are sure ways to help reduce your chances of developing hearing problems down the road.
Pay attention to the exposure your ears are getting to loud music levels. Turning the volume down when practising, limiting your exposure before and after a set, setting up the speakers further away from the DJ equipment, turning down the monitor in between mixes and leaving the drink behind are all good ways to help preserve your long-term hearing.
But the biggest tip of all is not to do only any one of these pieces of advice alone, but rather to do them all together. Another priceless piece of advice is that even if you listen to all of these tips, new situations may come up that require common sense.
The bottom line is this…
If you’re exposing your ears to loud volumes for a prolonged period of time, you’re more likely to have problems. Look after your ears.
Combining these methods, sticking to them and using your own common sense in new situations are all things you should do to protect your biggest asset, most important money maker and the thing that probably gives you the most pleasure in life, your hearing.
You really should be looking after you ears and wearing protection as much as possible. Don’t just take my word for it. There’s plenty of respected DJs, producers and YouTubers who will all agree when I say your ears are delicate, sensitive, and can cause you years of suffering if you don’t look after them properly.
The guys over at the Club Ready DJ School have reviewed some of the DJ earplug options in this video. Well worth a watch.
Here’s some sage advice from Phill Harris, a DJ that knows all too well how important protecting your ears really is.