Interview: How Big Ear is Tackling Hearing Loss in the Marching Arts

“Why do I need earplugs?”

This is the first thing you will see upon visiting Big Ear’s Website (https://www.bigearinc.com/products/marching-bands-ear-plugs/), as well as the question of most of the minds of marchers. The truth is, however, that hearing loss in an activity as loud as the Marching Arts  is a very real issue, and Big Ear is tackling this issue head-first with their Marching Band Earplugs.

I spoke with Elyse Koon, a representative at Big Ear, about the initial reception to the earplugs, as well as the development, challenges, and the importance of hearing protection in Marching Band.

Despite the fact that Marching Band is an exceptionally loud activity, hearing protection is not something that most people would consider. What has the initial reaction been like when you introduced your Marching Band Earplugs?

We started approaching collegiate marching bands a few years ago, and the response was jarring to them. What well-balanced educator intentionally wants to cause someone pain while they do something they love? So the initial response was confusion, mixed with revelation and frustration because you have to think about how many students have already gone through a lifetime’s worth of hearing damage and had to quit or retire altogether from music because they lose the color of the music or because their tinnitus is so bad. The average band instructor retires at around 52 years of age with dual hearing aids.

How bad can hearing damage be with an activity like Marching Band? How loud can the activity be?

-It’s serious. A jet taking off is 150 dB, which for most people if they weren’t wearing hearing protection, would rupture their eardrums and add life-altering complications immediately. Marching Bands rehearse from the murmur of the musicians preparing to play at 65-70 dB to 110 dB when all the musicians are playing. I will say that again: 110 decibels!
Musicians can generate that level for 8, 10, and sometimes 12 hours a day, and most are not wearing hearing protection. Hearing damage occurs from a specific amount of time exposed to sound levels over 85 dB. For certain levels, you can be exposed for hours, but for sounds such as 110dB, your daily exposure is 10 minutes before hearing damage occurs.

Big Ear has a very wide range of products, dating back to 2003. What lured Big Ear into create earplugs for Marching Band?

Big Ear began maneuvering into the Marching Band world when a member of our team introduced us to Scott Weiss at the University of South Carolina. He was an incredible ambassador for the marching band community and he opened his program up to our company. After working with Scott, other directors began contacting us, and it began snowballing from there.

Thus far, we have made earplugs for students and musicians from all walks of life from all over the world. That’s how we made our foray into the marching band world, however, the way we made our entrance into the music world began when our founder bumped into a member of the Dallas Philharmonic. He was having problems with his hearing, as a lifetime of playing had slowly taken it from home. However, the bigger problem he was faced with was that the products he was trying to wear were causing him even more problems because he lost the color of the music. After these conversations and working hand in hand with him and other musicians, we created our product, called “The One,” which allows musicians and anyone who wears it to retain the color of the world around them with no occlusion, however, when sound over 85dB tries to penetrate your ears, they are not damaged by it.

What makes your Marching Band Earplug (“The One”) unique? During the development of the earplugs, what were some challenges and developments made to accommodate the Marching Band activity?

What makes it special is that there is no occlusion in the individual who wears the product. Most products that anyone will wear gives off that plugged up feeling that separates you from your audience or simply the world around you. So we created our product with a flat attenuation filter to screen the sound but keep it constant and unchanged, and the non-linear filter to protect against extreme sounds. And, with the product being custom molded, it’s made for your ears.

Accommodating the various members of the marching bands we work with was a challenge as you have a wide range of musicians. You have everything from the drum line to piccolo players and the horn section. So we worked with each section individually to get the players what they needed.

The flat attenuation filters that insert into the outside allows players to choose between 9, 15, 20, and 25 dB filters during their day. The 9 is ideal for walking around and for normal sounds in your environment, the 15 is great for solo rehearsals, and the 20 and 25 are ideal for the extreme level of noise such as full band rehearsal, sectional rehearsal when the entire section is cramped into a small room, and performances. Then, if the level gets too loud, the player can plug the bottom non-linear filter hole and have a solid reduction earplugs.

What has the feedback from marchers who have utilized the product been?

The feedback early on was key for adjusting the product and adding in new filters and options for different players. Thus far, the response from players all over the country has been incredible. We have testimonials on our website from the players who use our hearing protections, and it’s such a positive and incredible experience. Something that makes my day is when a musician comes up to myself or a member of our team and tells us that they love our product.

And it’s not limited to just this product. We travel all over the world doing different trade shows and large scale events, and at every show we have previous customers visiting our booth and stating that they love their Big Ears and that’s why we do what we do.

We are a customer service-centric business. If you call the number on the website, you get us, not a call center, and we answer your questions and solve your problem. I also answer every comment on YouTube and Instagram with thoughtful responses because if you pay attention to how debilitating and destructive hearing loss, Tinnitus, Hyperacusis, and other hearing related diseases are, it’s very sobering, and being able to prevent individuals from experiencing that discomfort is what I get out of bed every day.

Thank you again to Elyse Koon for answering our questions!
Make sure to visit https://www.bigearinc.com/products/marching-bands-ear-plugs/ for more information.