Images by Jan L. Mayes taken at Vancouver, BC, Canada concert on Avatar Going Hunting Tour 2022.

Whether it’s pop, rock, or country, amplified music at concerts is loud enough to damage hearing health. I’m an old bat in my 50’s and have tinnitus. That doesn’t stop me from going to see my favourite bands play live.

When Avatar the metal band came to Vancouver on July 27th, 2022, I went to see them for the 3rd time. I also saw them on their Hail The Apocalypse and Avatar Country tours.

Why do I like metal music? The lyrics speak to me. During my years growing up, I was the weirdo. The quiet one with the secret abusive homelife. I didn’t fit in anywhere.

Why is Avatar my favourite band? Extremely skilled songwriters and musicians. Amazing performances unlike any other band I’ve seen, e.g. synchronized hairflips and Johannes singing lead. I love their songs from melodic death metal to heavy metal.

Where do I like to be in the venue? Avatar has played at general admission Vancouver venues like The Commodore and The Vogue with capacities of about 1,000 people. Both have seating areas with a standing area/mosh pit in front of the stage.

For most concerts, I’d be in the seats. But not for Avatar. Because of some health issues, I stand up against the security barrier by the stage, in front of the mosh pit. This lets me hang on while head banging without falling down.

Obviously concerts are very loud, so I protect my hearing health.

4 Ways to Protect Your Hearing at Concerts

1. Bring your own earplugs

Plan ahead. Bring hearing protection that fits your ears to seal out sound waves. (Or buy earplugs at the venue if you forget your own.)

There are different hearing protection options depending partly on a person’s hearing health status and how much sound they want to screen out.

Many people like using high fidelity musician’s type flanged earplugs for concerts, e.g. about $20 a pair in Canada. These have special filters to turn down the volume without distortion. I find the flanged earplugs are easy to insert by gently “screwing” them into the ear canals until there’s a slight seal if you tug gently on the plug. There are also other options depending on individual preference, e.g. custom-molded earplugs.

Concerts are loud, and I have tinnitus and some decreased sound tolerance. So I use regular premolded flanged earplugs with higher noise reduction. It’s more comfortable for me even if there’s some distortion. I like a corded style so I don’t lose them, and can hang around neck until needed. This style doesn’t hurt my ears like if I wear foam earplugs for several hours.

Flanged Earplugs

2. wear hearing protection the whole time

I noticed more people than ever before wearing earplugs at the concert. This is great. Except most waited to use hearing protection until the headliner Avatar came on. This left them unprotected from ambient music and during opening metal acts of Light the Torch and Monolith.

Waiting for the headliner to put in earplugs is a problem for two reasons.

One. It’s important to protect your hearing for the whole exposure. Venues often play harmfully loud ambient amplified music before the show, between loud opening acts, and after the headlining band is done. If you have to raise your voice or lean in to talk, then it’s time to put on hearing protection.

Because of the ambient music, I usually put on my earplugs as soon as I’m in the venue. I don’t take them off until the concert is over and I’m leaving the venue.

Two. Keep in mind that by the time Avatar came on, there had been a lot of singing, head-banging, moshing, and jumping about. People were very sweaty. As the stage darkened for Avatar’s big entrance, everyone around me raised their arms to squish in some foam plugs that didn’t seem to fit.

No matter which way I turned, I was nose level with a lot of armpits. I don’t mind that it Smells Like A Freakshow. I wish those earplugs were put in earlier when there was a bit more space before the concert started.

3. Move It

Based on my understanding, I think movement during loud exposures helps lower the risk a bit. Standing or seated movement could include dancing, jumping, fist pumping, or head banging that would increase heart rate.

Here’s my thinking. Increased blood flow to the inner ears (cochleas) can improve hearing health. Loud noise directly damages the inner ears (as well as the hearing nerves, connecting synapses, and sound/speech processing systems in the brain). Oxidative stress is an underlying cause.

Maybe good blood flow during exposures might lessen noise damage? No study to prove it yet, but it can’t hurt for any loud listening.

4. Sing Along

When people are at a concert, I recommend singing along to lower loud exposure risk a bit. At a metal concert, this might include yelling, roaring, or howling along.

The science behind this is simple. We have an acoustic reflex that cuts sound intensity (decibels) a bit when we speak. It helps modulate the sound of our own voices, among other things. Using our voices during loud exposures might help lower total risk. No specific study on that, but it can’t hurt.

Before I go to a concert, I find out what the likely set list will be. I have Spotify, so I set up a concert playlist and work on learning the lyrics ahead of time. I can’t learn them all. But I at least know the choruses or when to growl and shout. Sometimes I just hum or vocalize along when I don’t know the words.

About halfway through the Avatar concert, Johannes leaned down in front of me to ask, “Do you know the words to all the songs?”

Words clogged in my throat as thoughts spun through my mind. Johannes! Ye-…Some…Ack

I snapped back to Johannes waiting for an answer.

“Yes,” I blurted.

I can’t promise you that you’ll have a moment with the lead singer if you sing along. But it made an amazing concert super special for me.

What if your hearing changes after the concert?

If you have even temporary hearing changes after a concert like muffling or ringing in the ears, it’s a sign of early noise damage. Even if it goes away within a day or so. You need to do better with hearing protection next time, including making sure it’s worn the whole time and sealing out sound properly if using earplugs.

What if you already have tinnitus? I can only speak for myself. I know ahead of time that my tinnitus will be worse after I go to a concert. Just like my chronic pain and fatigue will be worse. After concerts, it takes weeks for things to settle back to usual, including my tinnitus. But I protected my hearing health at the concert.

Is there a chance my tinnitus is worse from loud music exposure? Sure. But I think it’s not very likely. I think for me, it’s more likely a flare-up. If I want to go to a concert, then too bad for my T. It’s a personal choice.