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Survival kit for live sound work

As you may know, I still have multiple jobs for a number of reasons. My “second” job is being a live sound engineer both in FOH and monitor positions. As now the festival season has been started, I prepared myself to not only survive, but to enjoy it, and more importantly, protect my ears as I’m planning to use them in this post industry for very long years.

So what would one need to have in order to really be safe out in the high-SPL festivals?

Safety measures

First let’s see the necessary things, which won’t directly help you to do your job, but will help you retain you hearing, and protect you from exhaust.

Ear plugs. They come in every shape and form and price. A custom made is a very good choice as it is very accurately attenuates the outside noise/sound i.e. you can mix a loud show with it, because the frequency curve remains almost the same. A good solution, although not cheap and you have to be very careful not to loose them. Also clean them regularly as they go into your ears!

Cheap earplugs. These are the ones you can buy in every industrial safety shops. There are many brands, and it is safe to say that either will do a great job. Look at the attenuation curve and decide. I always have a pair with me, even when I’m not working. I go for a model that attenuates about 28–32dB. It is much, but needed. It won’t allow you to mix a show, but can give you nice isolation in a concert environment, so when you need a rest, or just waiting for your turn, it does a very good job.

I even have a rather strange habit to put them in during the show for a minute or two. This time is not enough to really rest your ears, but enough for them to “recover” from short term fatigue, so when you pull them out, you’ll have fresh ears in the middle of the show for example. On a long day, this can be a life saver.

I recommend to have at least a few pairs with you at any venue. Use them, and of course, clean them regularly. A quick cleaning tip: if you don’t have a chance to properly clean them before you have to use them again, use some antibacterial hand cleaning gel to clean them. Every pharmacy sells these little bottles and they are so small you can carry them in you pocket.

If you happen to forget to bring earplugs with you, even some tissues will do the job, although they attenuate far less than an earplug.

Hearing protectors

My ultimate choice. Just as the earplugs, they come in many shapes and colours, but the main point is how much they can attenuate. Even some cheaper one will do a wonderful job. I use a model which attenuates an average of 36dB. Average, because these are industrial tools and almost always have some frequency-attenuation scale. Obviously at low frequencies these protectors are able to attenuate less, and as frequency goes higher, you’ll find more and more attenuation there.

What are the advantages compared to the earplugs? Many. First, they are more comfortable to wear as they are like headphones, don’t go into you ears. Second, many times you have higher attenuation. Third, you can combine them with some earplugs to achieve extreme attenuation. Although that would diminish the first advantage, but you get the point.

Headphones and earphones

This is really not a viable option when you mix Front Of House, but in the monitor world, it can work. Actually it is working.

I use headphones to mix monitor whenever I can. You have to get used to it, you must know your headphones intimately to achieve a good mix. So don’t just grab them and start using it. Be prepared for it first with using a combination of wedge and the headphones, then as you become more and more comfortable with your headphones, you can stop using the wedge.

This way you choose the volume level you mix at, have more minute detail, can catch feedback frequencies faster as you don’t have the extraneous noise around.

Always check yourself

Loud sound not only damage your hearing, but can completely wear you out in very short amount of time. I encourage you to wear, use some kind of protection whenever is possible, even if it is an option only for a few minutes. Your mix and healthy hearing will thank you later.