Fame, fortune, and screaming fans — these are some of the terms and phrases you’d choose to summarize the everyday life of a professional musician. But what you more than likely wouldn’t take into account is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-enjoyable side-effects of all that prominence, wealth, and screaming. The sad irony is, a musician’s hearing is exactly what is most predisposed to damage from the performance of their trade.
The fact is, musicians are approximately four times more likely to experience noise-induced hearing loss in comparison with the average individual, as indicated by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The scientific study also revealed that professional musicians are up to 57% more likely to develop tinnitus — a condition associated with a relentless ringing in the ears.
The root cause: frequent exposure to deafening noise. Over time, loud noise will irreparably destroy the hair cells of the inner ear, which are the sensory receptors responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. Like an abundant patch of grass worn out from repeated trampling, the hair cells can in a similar fashion be wiped out from frequent overexposure to loud noise – the distinction, of course, being that you can’t grow new hair cells.
Louder is not better
To illustrate the problem, hearing loss begins with recurrent exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to gauge loudness). That might not mean much to you, until you have a look at the decibel levels connected with typical events:
Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)
Ordinary conversation at 3 feet: 60 – 65 (dB)
Motorcycle: 100 dB
Front row at a rock concert: 120 to 150 dB
In non-technical terms, rock concerts are literally ear-splittingly loud, and recurring unguarded exposure can cause some substantial harm, which, unfortunately, numerous noteworthy musicians have recently attested to.
Chris Martin, the lead vocalist for the band Coldplay, has struggled with Tinnitus for ten years. Martin said::
“Looking after your ears is unfortunately something you don’t think about until there’s a problem. I’ve had tinnitus for about 10 years, and since I started protecting my ears it hasn’t got any worse (touch wood). But I wish I’d thought about it earlier. Now we always use moulded filter plugs, or in-ear monitors, to try and protect our ears. You CAN use industrial headphones, but that looks strange at a party.”
Other noteworthy musicians that suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus include Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Bono, Sting, Ryan Adams, and more, many of which show regret that they hadn’t done more to take care of their ears throughout their careers. According to Lars Ulrich from Metallica:
“If you get a scratch on your nose, in a week that’ll be gone. When you scratch your hearing or damage your hearing, it doesn’t come back. I try to point out to younger kids … once your hearing is gone, it’s gone, and there’s no real remedy.”
How musicians can protect their ears with high fidelity musician’s plugs
While musicians are at a higher risk for developing hearing loss or tinnitus, the risk can be dramatically lowered by assuming protective measures. As a result of the specialized requirements of musicians — and the significance of protecting the detBecause of the unique needs of musicians — and the importance of protecting the fine details of sound — the first step is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
Here’s a classic error: musicians will often wait to see an audiologist until they experience one or more of these symptoms:
A ringing or buzzing noise in the ears
Any pain or discomfort in the ears
Difficulty understanding speech
Trouble following conversations in the presence of background noise
The trouble is, when these symptoms are found to exist, the harm has already been done. So, the main thing a musician can do to deter long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.
If you’re a musician, an audiologist can recommend customized musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will give protection to your hearing without diminishing your musical performance. As a musician, you have unique needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing specialists are the professionals specifically trained to supply you with this tailor-made protection.
Additionally, bear in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as vulnerable. So the next time you’re front row at a rock show, understand that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping right from the speakers right into your ears.