Hearing loss is a terrifying thought for musicians – the thought of one of your greatest assets degrading over time can be scary. Some musicians just consider hearing loss to be a part of the trade, and sadly it’s almost impossible to completely avoid it, especially if you play a lot of live shows. Luckily, there are a few ways you can try to mitigate the risk of hearing loss. Fellow musicians, here is how to protect your ears so you can keep rocking for longer.
1. Try To Avoid Long, Loud Sessions In The Music Studio
It can be tempting to work on your music for hours on end at ear splitting volume, but please consider how this can impact your hearing over the long term. This should be obvious, but surprisingly enough, exposing your poor ears to super loud music for a long time without breaks is a super quick way to degrade your hearing.
To avoid this, try to take breaks at least once per hour, if not more, to help give your hearing a little bit of a rest. If you’re a live musician, it’s pretty difficult to control the volume since there isn’t exactly just a volume knob on a drum kit, but you can try and turn the amps down a little to help.
For mixing and mastering, as well as electronic music producers, it’s a little easier to take breaks and simply turn the volume down a little. Only turn the volume up to “loud” if you need to listen for small intricacies in mixing. Ask yourself, “do I really need the volume to be this loud right now, or do I just enjoy it?”.
2. Use Speakers Rather Than Headphones
Headphones are fantastic tools for musicians, but when working in a DAW you may find it helpful to use speakers rather than headphones. There are conflicting studies around this subject, but it’s generally considered that headphones, especially when the volume is really high, accelerate hearing loss at a faster rate than speakers.
The logic does make sense – headphones are just speakers but right next to your ear. If you can manage it, either turn your headphones volume down (I know you love bass, but just try it), or consider moving to using studio monitors a little more often. Studio monitors can of course still cause hearing damage at loud volumes, but I personally see speakers as the lesser of two evils in this instance. Looking at discussions on this music forum seem to agree:
I have major tinnitus and hearing loss from my years as a DJ, wearing headphones, and playing them too loud.
I thought it was funny when I was 25 when other DJs would look at me like I was crazy for playing them that loud.
It isn’t funny now at age 53.signofthetimes53, forums.stevehoffman.tv
3. Take A Step Back At Live Events
If you make music, chances are you enjoy other people’s music too. If you attend a lot of live music events, raves, or even just clubbing, try to distance yourself a bit from the speakers. When you’re drunk and having a great time it can be super tempting as a musician to try to stand in the perfect firing line for maximum loudness, but try to think about your hearing loss. It’s about breaking long term habits.
If you’re right at the front next to the amps every now and then it isn’t great by any means, but far less damaging than repeating this every single weekend of your 20s. If you go to some kind of music event every weekend of your 20s for a few hours, this equates to over 1500 hours of extreme noise exposure to your ears. Yeah, I can’t imagine your ears will be thanking you when you reach middle age. This neatly takes me on to the next tip.
4. Earplugs! Get Them!
It might not be considered “cool” to whip out a pair of earplugs, and I’m guilty of this if I’m honest. If you are making and listening to loud music for hours and hours per week, a pair of earplugs is really going to do you some favours. Luckily young people are finally becoming more and more conscious of hearing loss, and it is no longer uncommon to bump into people at raves and gigs with earplugs in these days (in the UK at least). According to macksearplugs,
The highest noise reduction rating (NRR) currently offered by an earplug is around 33 decibels. Decibel levels up to the earplug’s NRR rating will be blocked out entirely. Any noise over the earplug’s NRR may be heard.macksearplugs.com
Earplugs have been shown to decrease volume to your ears by up to 33 decibels. This makes a huge difference, especially as decibels are on a logarithmic scale!
5. If You’re Going To Use Headphones, Get Noise Cancelling Ones
I’m hesitant to recommend headphones at all if I’m honest, but there are certain times where it’s the only option. When I go the the gym it’s hardly socially acceptable to blast Broccoli F*ck by GPF on a speaker, so I use a pair of Airpod Pros. The noise cancelling they offer is good enough that I’m able to listen to music at about 4 notches lower on my phone.
I’m not entirely sure what this equates to in real world terms, but it’s got to be a bit better than on max volume. Now the Airpods Pro are pretty good, but in ear headphones are generally considered to be more potentially harmful than over ear headphones. If you have a bit of spare cash, get yourself some decent noise cancelling headphones.
Conclusion – It’s Hard To Avoid Hearing Loss Completely As a Musician, But There Are Ways To Lessen It.
Hopefully a few of these practical, easy to implement tips will be of use to you. I’m 21 and I’m already aware than my hearing is pretty degraded, which is why I’ve started to pay more attention to this sad but very real part of the music world.
My hearing age is already in the 40’s, which is terrifying to me. I’m begging you, please pay attention to your ears. You might think your ears ringing after a studio session or a gig is something to laugh about, but seriously – ask yourself if it was was it 20 years on.
Thanks for taking the time to read my article. If you liked this, perhaps you would be interested in finding out how much Instagram pays musicians?
Extra Fun Fact – What Was The Loudest Music Performance Of All Time?
According to Wikipedia, The Guinness Book of World Records listed Manowar as the loudest band for a performance in 1984. The band claimed a louder measurement of 129.5 dB in 1994 at Hanover, but Guinness did not recognise it, having discontinued the category by that time for fear of encouraging hearing damage.