Rock n' roll is loud. I used to think I would look like a dork or a wuss if I wore earplugs in a venue. As I spent more years in rock n' roll I realized that all the lifelong musicians have trouble hearing as they get older. It's almost a badge of honor. For every time an older musician says "what?" it is a mark of how much they have lived and seen. It's kinda cool when you think about it.
However...I don't want to lose my hearing. Fuck it, I'm wearing earplugs. You should too if you are a lover of live music.
For the casual concert goer, foam earplugs are just fine. You can buy them at drug stores, grocery stores and sometimes even venues for $1. I will often hand them out to friends at my shows so they can enjoy themselves comfortably. They cut about 26 decibels which is the same as plugging your ears shut with your fingers. This will prevent ringing in your ears at the end of the night, which is a symptom of damage to your eardrums. The music will sound muffled, but if you just wanna dance and/or drink, it's fine.
At the other end of the spectrum are custom earplugs. These will require a doctor making a mold of the inside of your ear. I have a pair of these and they are my second most prized possession (the first being my custom in-ear monitors). I can choose how many decibels I want to cut out - 9, 15, or 26 - by switching out a little disc and there is no muffled sound. I can simply hear everything with no pain from too much volume. They are seriously wonderful. Music sounds true and clear. These run about $100, plus the pain in the ass of going to an otolaryngologist (ear/nose/throat doctor).
Now, a drum roll for the best middle-of-the-road earplug for the discerning concert-goer...
You want these, click this: Etymotic
The brand is called Etymotic. As I recently learned at the NAMM convention (North American Music Merchants), Etymotic is the creator of the technology in my custom earplugs that I love so much. These have the clarity of the professional ones and they cut about 20 decibels. They are really fantastic at only $20. You can buy them on the Etymotic website or on Amazon.
For non-musicians, you can compare these plugs to the foam plugs by listening to cymbals or guitar solos - the higher sound frequencies. The foam plugs will make the cymbals and guitars sound muffled, but the Etymotics will allow you to hear and appreciate it all in the way the musician intends it to be heard.
If you get yourself a pair or just want to ask more questions on the topic, come to a Patitude show and talk to Mark on bass. He's our expert and has tried every brand out there.