As you know, I always recommend wearing earplugs when shooting live music. More than any technical help with settings or how to shoot, wearing earplugs is probably the best advice I could possibly give to anyone looking to shoot live music. Whether you're shooting at the front of the stage as a fan or in the photo pit head-level with a line of bass speakers, music photographers are almost always in the “line of fire” with the sound systems of live events.
My go-to earplugs of choice are the Hearos Extreme Protection Series, which have a decibel reducing rating of 33dB – the highest I've found among readily available earplugs. Even better, they're comfortable, cheap, and have keep my ears from ringing for years.
The Hearos Extreme Protection line comes in a few different packages, but they're always blue. They also come in different quantities, but they're commonly sold in 7-10 pair packs, which also include a free case.
My Earplugs of Choice
The main reason I favor the Extreme Protection Series from Hearos is that they offer among the highest noise reduction among commercially available earplugs, including Hearos's also very good -32dB reducing Ultimate Softness Earplugs. Even though it's only a 1dB difference in the rating, sound decibels are measured on a logarithmic system and the difference is still present.
Moreover, in the longrun, even with hearing protection, the long term effects of shooting 100+ concerts a year are bound to catch up with one's eardrums. For the small premium, I'll take the “extreme protection” and as much decibel reduction as possible.
Advantages Over “Hi-Fidelity” Earplugs
For a while, I used earplugs like the Etymotic Research ER-20, which are designed to attenuate loud sound evenly without distortion. Or in other words, they maintain a good level of sound quality instead of muffling the music.
The main problem I have with these types of hi-fi earplugs is that although they make sound better, they simply don't lower sound levels low enough to be effective. I've used them extensively, and the main reason I stopped using my Ety ER-20s is that I was still developing tinnitus (ringing in the ears) despite always wearing them. Add to this the fact that the ER-20 are not comfortable when wearing them for extended periods of time, and I don't care how good they allow live music to sound.
The Hearos Extreme Protection Earplugs pretty much deliver in all the important ways. The cut a ton of sound – even shooting at the front of the stage all day at a festival, I can leave without any ringing when wearing these earplugs. Almost equally important, they're comfortable. And cheap – if you value your hearing.
The only real downside is that these earplugs, like pretty much all disposable earplugs, are made of compressible foam that looses its resiliency after time. Not to mention that they're bound to get a little gross after repeated use, even in the cleanest of ears.
Short of getting molds taken and having custom earplugs cast, the Hearos Extreme Protection Earplugs offer some of the highest levels of hearing protection you can buy. Moreover, they're cheap, so even if you lost a pair, only your ears are going to hurt – while your wallet would definitely take a sting with custom earplugs. So, until I go all out and grab some custom earplugs by JH Audio, I'll be using the Hearos Extreme Protection Earplugs.
Even if you don't use the Hearos, I do suggest you wear some sort of hearing protection if you're shooting gigs. Don't forget the drummer. Wear earplugs.
Where to Buy
You can grab these Hearos on Amazon.com or places like CVS, Duane Reade or Walgreens. One of the great things about these earplugs is that they're so commonly available, you can find Hearos in just about any store that carries earplugs.