Liam O’Dell: Keeping myself safe from sound while playing my drums

Posted on April 30, 2014



OK, so drums aren’t really the quietest musical instrument out there, which means that for a deaf person like myself, hearing protection is all the more important. But at the same time, the protection methods I use (basically earplugs and closed headphones) shouldn’t be so protective that I don’t hear anything at all.

It’s annoying that there’s not an opportunity to balance between the two factors.

It’s the same at gigs or festivals, in my opinion, except there is no balance. Loud music, with the both musicians and audience having little protection leads to most people leaving the concert with ringing in their ears – similar to tinnitus.

I have tinnitus myself (along with inner ear deafness) and over the years, it’s gradually becoming more of a nuisance (and possibly worse!). Now, I have since invested in large, closed headphones that do a decent job until I buy myself proper ear defenders. Thankfully, I’ve heard that there are ER20 earplugs that allow for drummers to hear conversations at a less-dangerous level.

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The concept of the “silent disco” also looks like a good route for festival organisations and bands to go down. The premise of the “silent disco” itself is where listeners listen to music through wireless headphones rather than speakers. If anything, this allows for protection (closed headphones) and the right volume.

Also, how I hear the other players is an important factor. With most bands, just being near to other instruments gives the drummer a sense of tempo and volume, but with some bands, sound is reinforced through speakers. These speakers are often placed near the drummer for their benefit so they know how the song is going – but it doesn’t benefit their hearing!

It’s a shame to think that the music genre is gradually assuming that enjoying music comes down to playing music loud. Most rock music supports this, in my opinion, with the “screaming” type of rock demanding that it is played at insanely loud levels.

That’s another thing; there is a strong relationship between the band and the listener. If it’s hurting my ears when I play because it’s too loud, then the audience are likely to feel the same. So when screaming rock bands perform in recording studios or at festivals, it then leads to me questioning whether audience members need hearing protection as well as the performers themselves…

I think I am also forced to question whether loudness is one of the main factors in determining a song’s success, rather than actual key factors such as the lyrics and melodies. For example, calm, mellow and relaxing tracks don’t appear to feature on the charts anymore. Instead, monotonous pop music that can be played loudly, such as some types of electronic dance music feature instead.

I think emotional songs are a perfect example where music can convey strong emotions, but at the same time, be played at a safe level – more songs like this, please!

For me, chart music is where I get my music taste from, and the songs I choose to drum to. Nonetheless, I make sure my hearing is protected, and that each song, regardless of musical genre, is played at a safe level.

Liam O’Dell is a 17-year old who uses hearing aids in both ears. As well as playing the drums, Liam likes to read and write. You can find out more about Liam over at his blog: www.thelifeofathinker.wordpress.com, or follow him on Twitter: @lifeofathinker

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