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How do you guys deal with ear fatigue?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by ClarkJaman, Dec 19, 2012.

  1. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    A few weekends ago I went to a rock concert with some buddies in a small basement club. The music was pretty good, but really loud (and no, I'm not an old fart complaining about the music being too loud, I'm 23 years old). I don't understand why they have to turn the band up so loud??? In between the two bands I went to the bathroom and stuffed some kleenex in my right ear which was most directly facing the PA system. That helped a little bit. The next day was a Sunday, and I tried to get some work done on the album I'm mixing. After only 5 or 10 minutes, my ears were fatigued like I had been mixing for 8 hours straight and I had to stop.

    Ever since that damn concert I've been really aware of ear fatigue. I know its not a good idea to mix for more than an hour without taking a break, but lately I've had to take breaks every 30-40 minutes. How do you guys deal with it? How loud do you mix at, and for how long at a time? Does putting your monitors farther away from your ears help at all? I have mine about 3 feet from my head. I can't quite reach them if I sit straight in my chair and extend my arms towards them. I've been putting a wide -1dB cut on the master out at 2.5kHz when my ears get tired, but 1dB is not really enough to make much of a difference and I don't wanna risk messing up my sound because I'm missing volume in an important part of the mix. What do you guys think? Can mixing engineers afford to go to rock concerts? Lol.

    Pax Caritas et lol,

    PS I mix using KRK V4s, which I've only had for a few weeks now, and sometimes reference with my iMac speakers and AKG 121s.
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Clark, I'm 57 these days. I've been involved with professional broadcast and recording studio audio since the age of nine. All of my friends have rock 'n roll bands that I've recorded and/or mixed PA for. I was also a major market, over night and Saturday afternoon disc jockey that also had to make station sponsored appearances at the rock 'n roll concerts we were giving tickets away to. And I was doing that when I was 19. It became painfully obvious to me (figuratively and quite literally) after a KISS concert at the Baltimore Civic Center, that while I brought a handful of cotton balls with me, in 1976, and I was behind the row of the PA mixers, that lousy concert damaged my hearing severely for a week! I vowed I would never do anything like that to myself ever again. And as a result, from age 19 to this very day, I have rarely attended a live rock 'n roll concert in person, overly loud nightclubs with bands and bad loud jukebox systems. Because my hearing is my life. It's what I was put on this planet that do. And that's to be a professional listener and ya can't do that then have the kind of fun in your 20s as everybody else. It'll destroy your dreams. It'll destroy your ambitions. It'll destroy your place on this planet. Why do so personally love, on very rare occasions, to partake in a loud noisy event knowing that I'm going to have to be in quiet surroundings for a good few days thereafter for my hearing to recover. I'm not going to do anything, listen to anything, play anything above a whisper.

    I've also been an avid motorcyclist since 1978. That's also guaranteed to trash your hearing. And especially like me, having built a pair of studio quality headphones into my helmet, with the music blaring and the wind screaming by in my full face helmet, it's brutal. And my bike is real quiet like a BMW (Nippo-Guzi) It still doesn't matter. You almost have to estimate how much hearing damage you're going to have to endure over your lifetime as a professional audio engineer. There is a price to be paid for everything we do.

    Now, there is ear fatigue. And then there's EAR FATIGUE. And this can be due to more than just previous listening loudness levels. It may actually be your monitors? Yup. Your monitors. And this is what separates the men from the noise. You may have always liked the way your monitors have sounded? But your monitors may be in fact causing your most recent ear fatigue? And here is why I think this could be the issue? Back in the early 1990s, when I was working for the NBC owned and operated WKYS-FM, we were typically monitoring on old RCA coaxial/duplex monitors, similar to the old Altec 604 E and JBL 4311's. We could sit on these monitors all day, every day, day after day and no problems. Then our director of engineering (ya know the management guy) decided to supply us with these new monitor speakers that he really really liked, ADS. Within my first shift of four hours on those suckers, I thought I was going to lose my mind? And everyone else was blowing the tweeters except me. And we griped. And we griped and bitched. And finally, we had to insist we go back to the 4311's. And then everybody was happy again. Upon first listening to the speakers they actually did sound kinda' better, than those old cruddy JBL's (though not really to me). And when you have a whole staff of engineers that have to tell the engineering manager we will no longer work upon the speakers that he likes better because they ain't, he had to succumb to sanity. And does who could actually hear what the heck was going on.

    Plus we've all had days throughout our time in the studio, where you just don't monitor that loudly because you can't. Not if you want to get through what you want to get through without having to reschedule. So ya have to stop and take breaks and probably one of the reasons why God created marijuana? And then it doesn't matter if you've already trashed your hearing the session will go perfectly great. (That's when we all get to laugh when we get up the next morning and wonder what we were thinkin' when we came up with this incredible mix? Or, not?) So it just helps to improve your prospective about your hearing damage to allow ya to simply work around it LOL.

    I mean is there anything wrong with having to smoke something to make your tracks sound good?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I typically walk away for 15 minutes or so after about two hours of mixing time... although this depends largely on the monitors I am mixing through, the style of the music I am mixing, and the room in which I am mixing.

    I can go for much longer periods of time during actual tracking sessions, because I'm not hearing the exact same tracks rewound and played back over and over.

    Everyone is different in how they handle aural fatigue, as well as how loud and for how long they can mix. Some younger engineers can go for many hours without a break, others, like myself, at the grand young age of 54, need to walk away after a few hours.

    Some things that will expedite that fatigue with me are the use of exciters, ( I don't typically use them but if I'm engineering for a client or producer who does, I haven't much choice, I just have to knuckle down and endure it), also, being forced to mix at loud volumes for extended periods of time, or, walking into a control room as a hired gun to find that the studio's only speakers are Yamaha NS10's.

    Actually, in the last few years or so, for those gigs where I get hired in as a freelance cooker at various studios around town, I've actually started putting my own NF's in my car, just in case the aforementioned happens.
    My current "go to" monitors are Alesis Monitor Ones, along with an old pair of JBL's, which I love... I also bring my own power as well, - a Hafler Transnova 1500.
    And, believe it or not, I also bring my own speaker cables.

    The other thing I will frequently do is "calibrate" my ears to the surroundings I am in by playing songs that I have familiarity with, knowing what that music is supposed to sound like.

    I have several of these discs, including, but not limited to, Peter Gabriel's So, and Steely Dan's Aja'...
    although I will also bring with me commercially recorded music that is similar in style to what I am doing for that particular session...
    So, for example, if I'm recording a female Christian contemporary artist in a pop vein, I'll throw some Amy Grant into my gig bag.

    If I'm doing something that is more classic rock or vintage sounding, there's a whole slew of discs I can use, everything from Beatles and Zep to Cream and Skynyrd. Having music with me of which I am familiar with sonically, allows me to kind of "calibrate" my ears to the environment I am in - and the equipment I am mixing through.

    As a final note, Clark.... protect your hearing at all costs. Stay away from events or situations where you know you're going to be pummeled with certain freq's at ridiculous db levels. If you have to go, wear those ear plugs, and everyone one who would make fun of you for it be damned. It's just not worth the risk.

    I also clean my ears with warm water and a syringe every month or so, just to make sure I'm not mixing through a wall of wax... LOL...but take your hearing very seriously, it's what you do, they are the main tools of your trade. Without them, we are screwed. ;)


  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I'm ditto with Donny. That's right, you calibrate your hearing. And then ya do it.

    In some interesting comical fodder of note, many folks love mixing on Yamaha NS 10's. Bob Clear mountain is a wonderful engineer that I've had the great honor to work with. He popularized putting a sheet of toilet paper over the tweeters of those speakers because the high-end was so brutal. And the toilet paper took just the right amount of edge off those speakers. Well... I was years ahead of him.

    I used to have very short hair leaving my ears fully exposed. With every control room I worked in, my mixes just were not cutting through the way I wanted them to. I chalked this up to monitors that all seemed overly bright to me but not to the other engineers I worked with? That's what I decided to let my hair really grow out. Long enough to make it down to the middle of my back and certainly, covering my ears. Suddenly my mixes came to life! Of course it took months and months for that to happen and with everybody started to tell me I look like a ragamuffin. So if I really like the monitors I'm working on, I pull my hair back behind my ears. But if they're those Danish things, ribbon things, super hyped high, I let my hair down.

    Then after a quick ear calibration with my reference CDs, I'm ready to go.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. yellowdwarf

    yellowdwarf Member

    I was at the 76' Kiss show in Montreal (me and my friend figured we were the oldest people there at age 18 ...), at the other end of the forum facing the wall on Marshall stacks as I recall. My ears rang for 2 days and I'm paying for it now with some pretty major hearing loss.

    To answer the OP, you deal with ear fatigue in the same way as any other fatigue: rest. And buy some good industrial earplugs for any future concerts.

  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Here's a fun experiment to try to learn about hearing loss and ear fatigue.

    First thing you have to do is have a nice big dinner Yum good good. Then you take like six aspirins all at once. Then go mix some music for 15 minutes and take a break and tell me what you're listening to?

    I use my DSP to notch out my tinnitus. Works great. 2 bit floating point if I drink any alcohol.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i just don't track or mix loud. you can buy "flat ear-plugs" for around 400bucks and a hearing test. i'm getting mine if i get booked for the 30+ live gigs i'm might get this year. it's fine to listen loud, but for a reason. usually it's to listen for mix mistakes like breaking speakers, or for the low end development. for fade outs too. you won't go deaf fast listening at conversational level volumes. and most people don't listen too much louder than that, although the earbud faze is affecting that.

    also mix fast. personally, i'm finding that my cleints are liking the rough mixes better, than my carved out, polished version. i think there's about the first 15 min and hour or 2, that just has you really working. your ears are almost out of the question, maybe it's just the act of truing knobs and stuff. i think ear fatigue is mental fatigue as well.

    i work w/ a dude who has 80million records sold w/ his name on them, and let me tell you, his stuff is even brighter today than is was before. i think you just have to be aware of how your hearing, is affecting whats there. if you know your 12k is spent, you have to not over compensate. he talks loud, when we track the limiters on the monitors are flashing constantly.

    as a bit of a young guy, i just expect my hearing is gonna be tested more than the usual listener. as a plumber maybe it'd be my back or knees. it's part of the job. i'm very very cautious, and selective, of loud things. concerts are too cool to stop going, just get some plugs. casually listen at a moderate level. don't take up a gun shooting habit.

    i used to go for loud as it'll go live mixes, but i shoot for clarity now. i keep the low end loud, so it thumps the chest, and you can feel the bass notes, but i don't blast the upper ranges. you need definition there, not volume. i go to a club a few times a year and they just blast out there system to the point of not sounding good, i bring my earplugs. my inspiration for definition in live stuff was when i saw hubert sumlin at a local, but very real old theater, and it was just so clear, hi fi, yeah, but the engineer blended it well w/ the stage sound and it was un-matched so far. just some cobo amps 57's and a yamaha mcl console.

    studio and live mixing is the same and different. studio ya have to be conscious of how what your hearing will sound like elsewere, while live, you can be more indulgent to making it sound best in the room itself.

    as far as breaks, i just take em when i fell like it. maybe i feel like i gotta hit the bathroom, or wanna grab a drink, or smoke, or just get our of the room. timimg it out seems like quantizing. i usually won't leave until i've got somthing goin that i want to sound good. so it's usually 15min-2hrs. i want to come back in and be like ahhh thats still good. but still there is no supplement for sleep. ya gotta listen the next day or 2 or 3.
  8. XanderMoser

    XanderMoser Member

    Please do yourself a huge favor and wear ear plugs at EVERY show you go to. Every time you do this to yourself, you damage your ears a small amount. It adds up quickly.

    You might be the dorky one wearing ear plugs now. But you'll be the one mixing some kick-ass music in 30 years when everyone else is struggling to hear anything over 12 kHz.

    One of my close friends admitted to me that she thought I was being pretentious the first few times she saw me pull out the ear plugs at shows. But when I explained to her that it's my livelihood, she had a lot of respect for me. She's a graphic designer, and I explained that me losing my hearing would be like her going blind.

    Every time a loud show is over and I take out my earplugs, I smile when I can hear everything around me so clearly :)

    It will seriously affect your future work, so be the smart one and take precaution now!
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Some of those shows now are so ungodly loud... and yeah, I saw AC/DC and The Nuge and BOC and all the other loud bands back in the day...along with being a performer myself and having monitors and side fills crushing my skull... and I'm sure I'm probably paying for it to a certain extent now, along with the inherent loss that growing older can bring...

    I stopped into a club over Thanksgiving weekend and the db level was so hot, and mid range freq's so harsh, I don't think I managed to stay more than about 5 minutes tops.

    And the thing is, it doesn't have to be loud to sound good. Yeah, of course headroom is nice and having that thump in your chest is cool, but some of these mixes ( and DJ's too!) are soooo hot that it blurs the entire frequency spectrum....along with my vision. LOL

    Follow Xander's advice. Once that top end goes away, it never comes back!
  10. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    I wear ear plugs to concerts. Yeah. Maybe that's lame but I want to be able to hear well into my old age. I also mix at conversation level and turn it up only on occasion. Mind you, I don't have a pair of Urei in front of me just a cheap pair of KRKs. You can't squeeze good sound out of these. I work with what I've got and that's all the more reason I want to preserve my hearing.

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