Fame, wealth, and screaming fans — these are some of the terms and phrases you’d pick in order to depict the everyday life of a professional musician. In spite of this, what you more than likely wouldn’t take into account is “hearing loss” or “tinnitus,” the not-so-pleasant side-effects of all that popularity, money, and screaming. The sad paradox is, a musician’s hearing is precisely what is most vulnerable to trauma from the performance of their art.
The truth is, musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss compared with the average person, as reported by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. The research also reported that professional musicians are approximately 57% more likely to experience tinnitus — a condition connected with a repeated ringing in the ears.
The cause: frequent subjection to high decibel noise. As time passes, loud sound 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 frequent trampling, the hair cells can also be wiped out from repeated overexposure to loud noise – the main difference, of course, being that you can’t grow new hair cells.
Just how loud are rock concerts?
To demonstrate the issue, hearing loss starts with recurrent exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (decibels being a unit used to calculate loudness). That might not mean much to you, until you take into account the decibel levels connected with common actions:
Whisper at 6 feet: 30 decibels (dB)
Common 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 damage, which, unfortunately, numerous popular musicians have recently attested to.
Chris Martin, the lead singer for the music group Coldplay, has struggled with Tinnitus for many years. According to Martin:
“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 notable 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 voice regret that they hadn’t done more to give protection to their ears during the course of 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 custom ear plugs
Although musicians are at greater risk for acquiring hearing loss or tinnitus, the threat can be substantially lowered by assuming protective measures. Due to the unique needs of musicians — and the significance of protecting the detConsidering the specialized needs of musicians — and the significance of preserving the details of sound — the initial step is to make an appointment with an audiologist.
Here’s a typical error: musicians will frequently wait to see an audiologist until they experience one or more of these signs or symptoms:
A ringing or buzzing noise in the ears
Any pain or discomfort in the ears
Difficulty understanding speech
Trouble following discussions in the presence of background noise
The concern is, when these symptoms are present, the harm has already been done. So, the main thing a musician can do to avoid long-term, permanent hearing loss is to schedule an appointment with an audiologist before symptoms are present.
If you’re a musician, an hearing specialist can prescribe custom made musicians’ plugs or in-ear-monitors that will protect your hearing without limiting your musical abilities. As a musician, you have distinctive needs for hearing and hearing protection, and audiologists or hearing specialists are the specialists specifically trained to supply this custom made protection.
Additionally, keep in mind that it’s not only musicians at risk: concert-goers are just as susceptible. So the next time you’re front row at a rock concert, know that 120 decibels of hair-cell-killing volume is pumping right from the loudspeakers right into your ears.