If you know me, you know that hearing protection is extremely important to me personally. Wearing earplugs is something I encourage all concert photographers at shows and festivals. Earplugs are like cameras — the best ones are the ones you have on you when you need them. Whether they're cheap disposables or re-usable customs, I hope music photographers all over the world are protecting their hearing.
Recently, I had the opportunity to receive a new pair of custom earplugs thanks to MusiCares and 1of1 Custo. Here's a dive into the process of making custom impressions and earplugs, how long you'll wait, and what to expect with your custom earplugs.
MusiCares x 1of1 Custom
MusiCares is a non-profit providing health, rehabilitation and financial assistance to those working in the music industry. Among their many initiatives, one is offering free custom earplugs at events such as music festivals, for which they've partnered with 1of1 Custom, a manufacturer of IEMs (in-ear-monitors) and earplugs.
1of1 Custom are a division of ACS Custom, which are an industry veteran providing custom hearing protection and in-ear-monitors since 1994.
I'd always heard about this program, but never had the chance to try it myself until recently. Working C3 Presents at ACL Festival in 2021, I was fortunate enough to be able to benefit from this wonderful program.
Custom earplugs generally cost at least $150-200 for the impressions and the earplugs themselves, if not more. The fact that MusiCares offers these custom earplugs to music industry professionals to protect their hearing is truly a tremendous service.
Visiting the MusiCares Tent
MusiCares sets up in the artist lounge area at most festivals, though this may change from event to event. Touring artists and their crews are the intended audience of the artist lounge area. However, if you have access to the production area or otherwise AAA, you can visit the MusiCares tent to take part in this offering.
At Austin City Limits, the MusiCares tent opened at 11am. My friend Dusana Risovic and I made it a point to get there as soon as they opened.
Custom Earplug Impressions Process
The first step to custom earplugs is producing the impressions. It's important to note that you won't get to walk away with your set of earplugs right away.
Here's the overall process for making the ear canal impressions:
Inspection of ear canals
Insertion of foam dams into the ear canal
Injection of self-hardening foam
Repeat for your other ear
Wait a couple minutes while the foam expands and hardens
Removal of impressions
Special thank you to Dusana for letting me document the process of her getting her first pair of custom earplugs. Dusana is a good friend and great photographer — you can follow along with her work here http://www.instagram.com/dusana.
How long is the wait time?
MusiCares normally estimates about 1 month from impressions to receiving your custom earplugs. Here's a timeline of my experience:
October 3, 2021 — Molds made at ACL Festival
December 13, 2021: Email with address confirmation
January 11, 2022: Tracking notication
January 19, 2022: Earplugs delivered
Overall, the wait time was about three and a half months. There may have been various factors, including the fact that ACL was later in the year and there may have been a backlog of other events 1of1 was processing, supply chain issues, winter holidays, COVID, etc.
Regardless of the reason for the timing, I have zero complaints. These are free custom earplugs that are being provided as an amazing service without charge. This is only to say that your wait time may vary and it could take several months to receive your pair of earplugs, so plan accordingly.
1of1 Custom Earplugs
The earplugs arrived in zippered case. The logo for MusiCares appears on one side, 1of1 Custom's logo on the other.
Inside the case, there's a small manual that details care and cleaning instructions, as well as a cleaning tool for removing earwax or debris from the channel of the earplugs.
These 1of1 custom earplugs are “musicians earplugs” or “high fidelity earplugs” because they feature high quality acoustic filters. These filters reduce sound levels much more evenly across the frequency range compared to conventional earplugs (think your standard disposable earplugs).
The uneven attenuation of sound is what causes people to think that all earplugs make live music sound muffled, distorted or downright bad. If you've ever held this opinion, it's only because you haven't tried the right kind of earplugs.
High quality earplugs like these 1of1 Customs would command a premium price, which I know is a privilege that many cannot afford out of pocket. That makes the efforts of MusiCares really commendable and so very appreciated.
Fit, Comfort and use of Custom Earplugs
I've had other custom earplugs in the past made by great brands like JH Audio, Westone and now finally 1of1 Custom. They're made of silicone as other custom earplugs are. They are essentially clear and overall have a rubbery feel — firm but with slight give and flexibility.
The 1of1 Custom earplugs are extremely comfortable and the fit of the earplugs is excellent — as you'd expect from custom earplugs made specifically for you.
Unlike foam earplugs, one thing I love about custom earplugs is the relative lack of pressure on your ear canal. Foam earplugs as well as flanged earplugs both have material that is essentially compressed in your ear canal and forms a seal by that pressure against your ear canal.
Custom earplugs, by contrast, fill the ear canal more naturally. There is the sensation that your ear is full, and there is pressure against your ear canal, but it is slight. Overall, I find that wearing custom earplugs for extended periods of time is much more comfortable than generic or universal fit earplugs. This is particularly true for long days as one experiences with photographing music festivals.
Ease of Use
Another aspect of custom earplugs that I love is that use is that insertion is very easy. Use is as simple as aligning them to your ears and working them into your ear canal. This experience is in contrast to foam earplugs and the process of compressing them, inserting them into your ear canal, and waiting for them to expand.
High Fidelity Acoustic Filters for Earplugs
As mentioned, the 1of1 Customs come with high fidelity acoustic filters that safely and evenly reduce the volume of sounds. This relatively flat attenuation allows these earplugs to preserve the quality of live music without making it sound distorted.
The filters in the earplugs rate at -15dB reducing. 1of1 Custom also offers a range of other levels of sound attenuating filters.
In filling out the form for the earplugs, I recall the option to pick which filters you receive with your earplugs. I personally thought I chose a higher reduction rating than -15dB. Either through my own error or perhaps just getting lost in the shuffle, it didn't happen.
No worries. I ordered a pair of the -27dB filters as well as a set of “Pro Blanks” which are just solid plugs that offer -33dB reduction.
1of1 Custom also offer many other options of filters for all your needs. As someone who already suffers from tinnitus, I am eager to try the highest noise reduction level of the filters. In addition, I look forward to having the Pro Blanks for the maximum protection when I need it.
Summary of 1of1 Custom Earplugs
I'm incredibly grateful to MusiCares and 1of1 Customs for their program to offer these custom earplugs to the music industry.
Overall, I'm thrilled with the quality of the 1of1 Custom earplugs and excited to use them during festival and tour season. For anyone one considering custom earplugs, I highly recommend them as invaluable parts of a music photographer's kit in general.
If you're working a festival as part of a media team or otherwise have access to the artist lounge at a major festival, I cannot recommend visiting the MusiCares tent enough. A huge thank you to the Recording Academy and MusiCares for subsidizing this program. You made me feel like a rockstar.
Even if you have to pay out of pocket, the expense is relatively low compared to the cost of even the most minor photography accessory. And much cheaper than the price we pay for lenses and cameras. I have always been a huge advocate of hearing protection. This has never been more true as I get older and suffer from prolonged exposure to loud noises over the years.
Get Your Own Custom Earplugs
If you're working a festival and have access to the artist lounge/backstage area, be sure to visit the MusiCares tent.
If you're working as media without access this service, or want to get custom earplugs on your own schedule and expense, you can still get custom earplugs. Simply book an appointment with an audiologist to make the impressions for the earplugs. The benefit is that you'll receive the earplugs in about 2 weeks, rather than 4+ weeks.
1of1 can produce the custom earplugs after you send them your impressions. The cost is $185 for a pair that includes your choice of acoustic filters. For the included case and option of many filter choices, I feel even this expense is well worth it. It's a small price to protect your hearing.
Anyone working in the music industry should use earplugs as a regular practice. Having a set of custom earplugs means more comfort, better protection, and improved ease of use. If you've always wanted custom earplugs, the best time to get them is now. Seriously, I cannot recommend any custom earplug highly enough. You and your hearing deserve it.