UPS just shipped home my customized musician earplugs, hurrah! I had a set earlier but lost them on my way to the San Francisco airport somewhere three years ago. It took a while for me to get to an AES show where they do free custom moldings of the ears. Meanwhile I used Etymotic ER*20s, or Hearos as they are called over at Guitar Center — $15 dollars each pair. I just need to take care of this second pair of customized musician earplugs really well. This time I heard the company is also storing the molds so I could just contact them and ask to make a new set in case silly me is again losing them somewhere.
As for ear protection. Every time I see in a musician forum a discussion about this, my reaction is to post (and I often do) with a similar story. Just get them, it’ the first purchase a musician or producer should get. Those are far more important than reference monitors, or a new audio interface.
If you lose your hearing, even parts of the high end, that’s it, you can’t work properly as a musician or a producer. It’s like cutting off your hands. Does not compute.
The ugly issue with hearing loss is that it is gradual, seldom sudden. It means that each time your ears are ringing after a loud evening, there’s loss happening. It all builds up. At some point you actually notice it. To some degree we can’t do much about it as we age. At the same time we could prevent serious hearing loss from happening.
For example, if you play bass (as I do) next to a drummer, the cymbal hits is a sure thing to lose your hearing over time — not to even speak if you are a drummer. If you stay in a 120dB or so environment for hours and hours, which easily happens during gigs, it all will add up as hearing loss.
The cool thing with good earplugs such as the Musician earplugs or earlier mentioned Etymotic ER*20s is that you actually start hearing more details — believe it or not — as part of having a more linear hearing curve. Going back to bass playing, instead of hearing that nasty cymbal clash that overrides anything else, you start to hear other parts of the drummer and the band so you could play better.
Any hearing protection is better than none, even if you should try to get such musician-centric protection tools as you want to have this linear dampening. The customized musician earplugs are nice as they take a mold of your ears and make the actual body of the hearing protection fit your ears as closely as possible, so it should feel natural. Not that I don’t mind the Etymotic ER*20s by now, I’m so used to them in my ears. Even when singing (which takes a while to get the hang of, as you have to rely more on the head voice, unless you have good monitoring, something seldom available…)
Last preaching words — get them in case you don’t have those already. Take the car and drive to Guitar Center or a similar place, some Walmarks also carry musician-centric earplugs. Or order online. And here’s the link to H.E.A.R that has programs and links where to get customized musician earplugs.