By Jay Clark
In February of 2008 I was sitting on the beach in Tobago nervously contemplating the fact that the ringing in my ears was louder than the waves. Yes, the water at Pigeon Point can basically be like glass but we were sitting in beach chairs halfway in the water.
I had just finished playing Mas in Port of Spain - full-day full-costume carnival dancing through the streets. We were in the Hart’s band, which was about 3000 people strung along in between dozens of 18 wheelers that had been converted to speaker stacks (refer to image below). It was deafening.
I asked for ear plugs but was too vain to wear the orange foamies they had available. Foam ear plugs just don't look or feel good.
After a day (and night) of nonstop noise, I paid the price for not wearing any sort of hearing protection. I knew the ringing in my ears I was experiencing that day, and frankly had also experienced from past partying and live music, was a primary symptom of tinnitus...and that was frightening.
Even after I got back to the states, I couldn't stop thinking about finding an alternative to foam ear plugs. I wanted to find something that lowered the volume without distorting the sound, something that I would actually want to wear. After a few months, I had done enough research to know that kind of hearing protection didn't exist. The kind that spoke to me as a music fan, as someone who wanted to be in and stay in the party.
In 2008 high-fidelity hearing protection was something targeted at musicians only. There was nothing of that quality available to someone like me. I knew that the only way I would be able to get musician quality hearing protection, I would need to make it myself.
So I got started.
By the beginning of 2009, I was through the R&D process. By summer, I was into manufacturing and by fall I was planning to launch musician quality, high-fidelity ear plugs that was available to music lovers and fans everywhere in early 2010.
Where were the most innovative and thoughtful people when it came to music? Where would people be open to a new technology that made their music experience better and safer? I painted a bullseye on Austin, Texas. We geared up to launch EarPeace and kickstart our goal of changing the way people consider hearing protection by offering a different way to experience one of our favorite pastimes.
In total I gave away over 10K units of EarPeace at over 100 shows and events during South by Southwest 2010. Even then, I understood the risks of noise-induced hearing loss from live shows and believed (and still do!) so much in this solution, so I spoke to anyone that would take a breath to talk about hearing protection. I met with ticketing companies, merchandise companies and pitched every venue that they should be carrying EarPeace.
Looking back, 11 years after launching EarPeace at SXSW, I’m proud that we’ve changed the landscape of hearing health.
SXSW has always been ahead of the curve, making them the perfect partner to try out something new. The following year, we introduced our first ever custom-branded product with SXSW. Since then, we’ve collaborated with hundreds of forward thinking artists, venues, events and festivals on custom products.
When the world shut down in 2020, music venues and events were the first to close and we knew they’d be the last to open. I was devastated. Seeing live music and going to in-person events are some of the main reasons why I started EarPeace- to enjoy the loud experiences I love without ringing ears, or worse, permanent hearing damage.
SXSW 2021 may be online, but it’s one of the first significant music festival-type experiences, and one of several promising developments. (Like I said, South by Southwest has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation.)
The Save Our Stages Act was one of our priority campaigns last year, and now that it has passed in Congress, it will help keep hundreds of venues open and thousands of artists on the road. With a little bit of luck, we could be back in a ‘normal’ music festival setting by the end of the summer- I’ve already booked our tickets to NOLA for Jazz Fest in October.
So thank you to SXSW for marking the beginning of our EarPeace journey and may this 2021 event mark a new beginning for us all enjoying music together again.