After just writing about Mac Apps for Sound Engineers I am back. I have been a “professional” sound engineer for nearly 3 years with over 6 or so years of volunteer experience through my local church. I am not sure what you would call professional. I am not doing arena shows are anything nuts but I do base a portion of my income from what I make as a sound engineer. Here are my tales with ear fatigue:
This is a hard one to explain to people. Unless you have experienced tired ears you really don’t understand. It is like that feeling you get after going to a concert. Everything is at least 10db quieter except with fatigued ears it isn’t just quieter, it is also duller. Everything mushes together and you can no longer distinguish between different frequencies.
I personally have never had any major issues with fatigued ears until lately. My church moved over to 2 services and I would leave from there to head to the local playhouse to mix 2 shows there. Several hours of mixing, short break and another 3-4 hours.
About halfway through the first production I would notice my ears starting to dull out. By the second production I was shot. I couldn’t hear as sharply as I should have been able too. Thankfully the mix is pretty tight so fader positions are almost memorized at this point with little mixing actually involved at least for the speaking parts; the musical numbers are a little different. It wasn’t to the point where I couldn’t hear anything but I just had to constantly make sure that I wasn’t overdriving my mix to compensate for the perceived db loss.
Ear Fatigue: Tips and Tricks
My tips below certainly aren’t fool proof but I would encourage you to give some of these a try.
2 years ago I purchased a set of musicians ear plugs. They are acoustically flat ear plugs that will drop everything down 20db. My church doesn’t run super hot but after mixing for a practice and both services my ears will start to dull out. If I have shows later in the day I am out of luck unless I can rest for a few minutes.
Trust your mix.
I am so guilty of wanting to change settings throughout the second service of church. It isn’t a bad thing but there is a time and place for that I.E: Sound Check. Set your EQs during sound check and only change them if there is a problem. This will keep your mix sounding tight even if your ears are dulling out.
Trust your readouts.
If you are running Smaart or another RTA I recommend that you trust in it. It will save your behind in the instance that you notice a problem frequency visually before actually hearing it. On a side note I recommend setting up 3 channels of RTA. 1. PAFL, 2. Matrix LR, 3. RTA Mic. Split your PAFL into a different window but keep your LR and your RTA in the same with overlap. Sorry, I am going on a rabbit trail. Everyone has their own methodology for setting up RTA readouts.
If you have downtime you should be resting or chilling out. Don’t subject your ears to even more when they need less. Between productions I will usually catch a quick nap and that will refresh my ears a bit. Don’t pop in ear buds and crank it to 11. Try to find solace and rest your eyes. Your ears are adaptive. They will adjust sensitivity based on the incoming volume. So less incoming means more sensitivity. This won’t help you throughout an all day festival but a few minutes of quiet is great for your ears and for your sanity.
I haven’t noticed this one helping but hey; it can’t hurt. Now that I am pop free I try to drink lots of water.
All in all your ears make you money. Don’t destroy them while your young. I am sure that I have hearing loss to some extent and I know I would have even more if it wasn’t for purchasing those plugs. The more time you spend mixing, the more you will be able to recognize when your ears are giving you trouble.
What are your experiences with ear fatigue and what have you found to help you? Please leave a comment below!
Author: Cody Sweeny
Cody Sweeny is a freelance sound engineer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about life experiences, new gear and anything else. He enjoys tinkering with technology, drinking coffee, and reading books.