Whether you play in a rock band or an orchestra (e.g., viola section in front of the timpani, woodwinds in front of the brass, etc), you NEED to protect your hearing.
The cheap foam earplugs many bars will sell you for a buck are better than nothing, but you will rightly complain that you cannot really hear music properly through them – it’s all muffled with lots of frequency loss.
Which it why it’s best to plan ahead and obtain “musicians’ earplugs” which are designed to filter sound evenly over the entire spectrum, low to high – protecting your ears from damaging sound levels while still allowing you to enjoy all elements of the performance.
Depending on your budget, musicians’ earplugs are available from around $10 for a basic model to $150+ for a custom fitted set.
Best investment I’ve ever made, seriously. They allow you to hear accurately while protecting you from damaging sounds. They’re $150 and you can get them at Brookline Hearing Services, or from most audiologists. Keep rockin’ (safely)!
And if you are not up for that cost at the moment, I recommend Alpine Musicsafe earplugs – not custom, but they do a good job, are comfortable, and have 2 different interchangeable filters depending on how loud your environment is. These go for about $22 ($28 if you want a choice of 3 filter levels).
There are more choices in the $8-$20 range here. Frankly, the best earplugs are the ones you have with you everywhere – if you suddenly find yourself in an uncomfortably loud movie theater or other event, are you really going to run back out to your car for them?! Most models come with a case that fits on your keychain. In addition to my “good” pair on my keys, I also have a $10 pair on EVERY instrument case, and a spare set in my car in case my partner forgets hers.
My father had 80% hearing loss by the time he was 80, due to firing anti-aircraft guns during WWII with only cotton stuffed into his ears – don’t be that cranky old guy/gal!