As the live music scene is thankfully getting back on its feet after a turbulent few years due to the pandemic, musicians and fans alike are coming back to experience the thrill of live performance once again.
But even as we eagerly buy tickets to see our favorite artists, now seems like a good time to stress the importance of taking care of our hearing, whether we’re in the crowd or on stage.
Last month, speaking on The Howard Stern Show, Dave Grohl said he had no doubt that if he went to a hearing specialist they would tell him he had “hearing damage” due to of his years on stage.
And in 2018, Roger Daltrey of The Who pleaded with fans to wear earplugs to concerts, telling the crowd at a solo show in Las Vegas (via The Times): “The problem with these earbuds I door is that I am very, very deaf. And I advise all of you – all of you rock ‘n’ roll fans – to bring your fucking earplugs to concerts. If only we had known when we were younger. We read lips.
This week we spoke with Liam Hennessy, Head of Health and Wellbeing at Help Musicians, and Paul Checkley, Partner and Clinical Director at Harley Street Hearing & Musicians Hearing Services, about what fans, and in particular musicians, can do to better protect themselves at concerts.
Louder: With the return of live music, how can artists best ensure that their hearing is protected at concerts?
Liam Hennessy: “The past two years have presented many challenges for musicians. After an extended period away from live music, now is the perfect time to think about protecting your hearing. Help Musicians offers initiatives to prevent career-threatening hearing problems.
“We work with our expert partners Musicians’ Hearing Services to offer audiological assessments in addition to providing bespoke, bespoke earplugs. This service usually costs around £250, but Help Musicians subsidizes the costs so the musician only pays £50 or £38.50 if you are a member of The Musicians’ Union. You can apply by visiting Hear For Musicians.”
Louder: Rock music is notorious for being loud, but do you think there’s still something taboo about admitting hearing loss/tinnitus among touring musicians?
LH: “We understand that it can be difficult for musicians to talk about hearing loss or tinnitus. That’s why we worked alongside the British Tinnitus Association to conduct research into the experiences of professional musicians and the support they receive.
“We found that tinnitus had a significant impact on the personal and professional lives of musicians. For example, there is a link between tinnitus and anxiety and depression. That’s why we encourage musicians to take preventative measures and access the support available through Help Musicians.
“One of the lasting impacts of this research is the introduction of a monthly support group specifically for professional musicians with tinnitus. This is a fantastic resource for musicians living with tinnitus – we encourage you to contact us should this be of benefit to you.”
Louder: How loud is it? And should performers, or those who attend a lot of live shows, get regular hearing tests?
Paul Checkley: “In general, 85dB is considered the safe limit beyond which hearing protection should be worn. The 85dB limit comes from the Occupational Noise Control Regulations and therefore less than 85dB is considered safe for an eight hour work day, however for every 3dB increase there is a doubling in volume and therefore a halving of safe exposure time.
“Once the level reaches 95 – 100 dB or more, it would only be safe for a few minutes. That’s why it’s so important to wear hearing protection. As a general rule, if you have to shout to be heard at a distance of two meters then you are in an environment potentially damaging to your hearing. We recommend a hearing test every one or two years if you are exposed to high sound levels.”
Louder: Many high profile artists such as Dave Grohl have spoken about tinnitus and hearing loss. Would you like more artists to address these issues to spread the word about the best way to protect their hearing?
LH: “Hearing loss in the industry appears to be a growing problem. Help Musicians is seeing an increase in the number of musicians seeking help; the British Tinnitus Association has also seen a 47% increase in the number of people seeking help. help for tinnitus during lockdown. Talking openly about these issues helps eliminate stigma and encourages others to seek help, as well as encouraging people without symptoms to check their own hearing health regularly. We encourage all musicians to take preventive measures to protect their hearing in order to support a long and healthy career in music.”
Louder: Do you have any general advice for musicians or fans who suffer from tinnitus and still want to play/attend concerts?
PC: “The key here is to make sure your hearing is protected. There are now special earplugs for musicians with flat response, which reduce the level of music entering the ear but maintain fidelity by attenuating all frequencies at the same level.Most standard earplugs attenuate high frequencies more, which can result in dull sound and make speech difficult to understand.Flat-response earplugs simply “turn the volume down” without affecting sound quality.
“If you suffer from tinnitus, there are a number of techniques and therapies that can help. The best place to start is with your GP who should be able to direct you to someone who can help.
LH: “I agree with Paul – it’s so important to protect your hearing. Please check the Help Musicians website to see how we can help you.”
Louder: Fans will often only see an artist once or twice on a given tour, but musicians can be on the road for long periods of time. Can venues do more to help touring musicians?
LH: “Musicians are often in noisy environments throughout their careers, and it’s not just at gigs that they can come across this. Loud environments can also be at rehearsals, in the studio, during sessions or, depending on their instrument, even just during practice.We encourage musicians to consider protecting their hearing at all of these events, not just on tour.
Louder: Should bands reduce their touring commitments, ie: shorter tours, or could promoters factor in more rest days between performances?
LH: “Taking into account a musician’s health during a tour is certainly important. Not only their physical health, such as their hearing and the risk of physical injury, but also their mental health. Touring is exhilarating and often vital for the growth in musicians, but it also creates extreme ups and downs, can be damaging to sleep patterns, eating habits, and often suppresses routine. These are all factors that should be in a touring schedule.