Small Band Hearing Damage
Small band performances in clubs, parties, weddings, or other venues
can reach sound levels that are far above that of professional high caliber
amphitheater acts. Since they are performed in small rooms and close proximity,
100 watts or so can go a long way. Practicing in a small area such as
a garage or storage shed can be even more harmful due to the lack of disbursement
space and sound absorbing material. The ignorance of amateur band members
turning their amplifiers up beyond the rooms capacity complete the ingredients
for avoidable permanent hearing loss. As sound levels increase, it becomes
increasingly difficult for each musician to monitor their particular instrument
prompting them to turn up even more. With sound levels that high in a
small reverberant space, along with an inexperienced sound man, the chance
of dangerous high frequency feed back occurring is almost inevitable.
Changing a situation such as this can be near to impossible if there is
only one band member that is genuinely concerned
The first step to solving the problem is to start monitoring your band
with a decibel meter - this will give you credibility. If you are playing
8 hours a day, 5 days a week you are getting into risk as you go over
90 dBA. If you are playing 2 hours a day, 5 days a week you shouldn't
be going over 100 dBA. Even if your only playing once a week for 2 hours
110 dBA is pushing it. Even though you get your levels down your still
at risk of being accidentally blasted with a surge of feedback, so leave
room for error. If everyone cooperates, you still face the fact that the
minimum level is generally governed by the drummer.
You can turn everything else down but drum level can be a very sensitive
issue. Some drummers have difficulty maintaining their style and attitude
when asked to tone down. This can create a lot of conflict in the band.
These drummers may either cop an attitude and refuse the request or they
reluctantly tone down for the moment with compromised style then they're
back to their full volume a few songs latter. It's as if they have absolutely
no concept of dynamics. There is a lot of technique to using good dynamics.
If the drummer is unwilling to change you have a serious problem.
No small time band is worth loosing your hearing over and its not just
a hearing loss issue. Sound quality goes down hill when room saturation
is reached. Effects, vocals, and other clean sounding instruments begin
to sound dry and the overall mix becomes muddy. The drums may sound ok
but the band as a whole sounds like garbage. Feedback comes into play
as vocalists strain to hear themselves only to sing out of key. Wearing
ear plugs can save your hearing but does nothing to improve the sound
and leaves everyone else at risk. If you insist on keeping a drummer that
will not or cannot control his volume, there are other options that most
audiences will hear as an overall improvement.
The best solution is to dampen the drum kit at least for rehearsals.
With the kit dampened the drummer can be free to play more aggressively,
making up tone loss with style. There can be far too many disadvantages
to virgin tone to justify it. It's flat out ridiculous for someone to
refuse to cut their volume to a practical level just because they don't
want to alter their precious tone. Another option or addition is to construct
an acrylic shield. Unless the shield is high enough, symbols may still
be heard over the shield and will still have to be dampened. However,
anything helps. Cymbals can be more problematic than the drums themselves.
Hanging small strips of cloth from the center nut of the cymbals is probably
the best possible way to dampen the volume of a cymbal without loosing
a whole lot of sound quality. However, the drummer will have to get used
to hitting around the cloth. Studio drummers do this in order to obtain
different sound qualities and cut sustain.
As for the drums small pieces of cloth or other absorbent material can
be taped to the heads. Foam rubber can be placed in various areas inside
the drum or hung from the heads inside. Rubber rings can be placed over
the tops of the heads at least during practices. There are several internal
muffling devices available and many are adjustable. As for the bass drum
pillows, towels or whatever sound absorbing material you can throw in
there will help. Shredded newspaper seems to work without loosing tone
quality. However, don't over do it on the bass drum - you may even want
to mic it even if you have dampened it. Lighter sticks should be used
but failing to get a drummer to keep enough of them around usually turns
this solution into a temporary one.
Just because the majority of drummers don't muffle their drums doesn't
mean you have to follow the majority. Musicians tend to be dreamers and
hope they are going to be on the big stage one day but odds are they are
buying equipment that was never meant to be used in a small room. The
reality is that most playing takes place in small rooms considering that
most playing is only practice. The trend is that many of us are after
big sound but big sound in a small room can be big noise. One mans amp
may stand great by itself but when combined with the rest of the band
it's a harsh reality.