The ringing in your ears after catching a set by your favorite band may be evidence of a souvenir you didn’t count on taking home. It’s incredibly easy to permanently damage your hearing, and noise-induced damaged is the leading cause. As a music lover your ears are the most important sense you have and protecting them is paramount—and We’re hEAR For You, a non-profit organization based out of Athens, Ga., aims to help you do just that.
Spreading the Word
Through its free-earplug program, We’re hEAR For You spreads awareness of hearing loss at festivals, concert halls, clubs and other live music spots. Since its founding in 2009 the organization has distributed tens of thousands of free earplugs, sponsored hearing clinics and traveled to festivals across the United States to promote the use of earplugs wherever amplified sounds occur.
Co-founder Katie Carmody, an experienced venue marketing manager and lifelong music aficionado, attributes her interest in this issue to her father, who developed tinnitus after attending a particularly loud concert. Her years of personal experience added to her inspiration.
“I attended Bonnaroo after graduating high school, and recall being in the front in one of the big tents- it was great, but so loud.” she says. “I looked back and realized the speakers I was standing right in front of were putting out enough sound for 30,000+ ears.”
The issue crystallized for her years later when attending a show with We’re hEAR For You’s other co-founder, speech language pathologist Caroline DeCelles, who’d attempted to purchase earplugs at the venue but found the machine empty. “We realized that between her knowledge of the scientific aspects of hearing conservation, coupled with my connections in the music industry, we had the knowledge and the resources to make a difference,” says Carmody.
Protecting Ears Nationwide
Although founded in the Southeast, We’re hEAR for You also has chapters operating in Denver and Boulder and its founders and volunteers make a special effort to be on-site for each major event the organization has a presence at. So far these include Amberland, Athfest, SXSW, Hangout Festival, Jam Cruise, Shaky Knees Festival and the Snowball Music Festival. Their earplugs are also found on the road with such high-profile acts as Drive By Truckers, Widespread Panic and Bassnectar.
Carmody says the only resistance she ever experiences from people is due to lack of knowledge about hearing loss. “The only opposition we have found is by those who are not educated about noise induced hearing loss,” she says. “Some people will laugh when we offer earplugs at concerts & festivals, but once we have a moment to educate them about why they should protect your ears, they first are very surprised to learn the facts- then are grateful for what we do.”
We’re hEAR For You is committed to this distribution scheme even when they must purchase the earplugs they give away. “Over the years we have purchased earplugs wholesale from a couple different distributors,” says Carmody. “[But], this past fall we reached out to [earplug company] Howard Leight by Honeywell to inquire about sponsorship and they graciously donated over 50,000 pairs of earplugs. So far, the organization provides jars of free earplugs to twenty eight live music venues.
Growing the Cause
With their eyes focused on the future, and staying committed to working with their means, the organizations expansion is a thoughtful, yet steady, one. Carmody says, “We have been contacted by venues and organizations all over the country to get involved, and as much as we would love to say yes to every opportunity we need to remember to pace ourselves and work within the budget we have.” The next towns on We’re hEAR For You’s expansion list are New Orleans, Austin, TX and Asheville, NC. Free hearing screenings are a regular occurrence already in Athens and Nashville. The organization pairs up with local audiologists to make these happen and there are plans to expand this aspect of the program, also.
[Note: If you’re associated with a venue in the organizations current areas of operation and are interested in what they can provide you’re welcome to drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Carmody says if you reach out, “We will handle the rest!”]
The More You Know, The More You Hear
For as much effort as has been put into education over the past several years there’s still a good way to go. Widespread knowledge of noise-induced hearing loss really doesn’t exist in music communities and that the myths of earplugs “ruining” the sound of live music is still a common belief. “The truth is,” she says, “[that] noise-induced hearing loss is 100% permanent and 100% preventable.”
Further, she reports that people sometimes think it’s too late for them to do anything for their ears because they’ve been so damaged already. “You can always protect the hearing you have left,” says Carmody. “A normal conversation between two people is about 60 decibels. Exposure to noise above 85 decibels results in Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Concerts are regularly in the 95-120 decibel range.”
The 100% volunteer run organization has doubled its level of distribution each year since its founding and Carmody is humbly gracious about what they’ve achieved in a relatively short time. We are so thankful for the support we have found in all areas-- from our donors and sponsors, the venues that support us, the bands who take our earplugs out on tour with them, the festivals that host us and everyone who wears our earplugs,” she says. “Things are really starting to take off and we could not be more excited to continue to educate people and protect their hearing."
For more information on We’re hEAR For you, hearing loss, the free earplug program, how to get involved and more please visit them online.