If you’re a professional musician, your ears are your livelihood. So it seems as if musicians would be rather protective of their hearing. But in general, that’s not the case. Many musicians just accept loss of hearing. The predominant attitude appears to be: “it’s just part of the job”.
That mindset, however, is beginning to be challenged by various new legal rulings and focused public safety campaigns. It shouldn’t ever be considered to be just “part of the job” to cause hearing loss. That’s especially true when there are established ways and means to safeguard your hearing without hindering your performance.
Safeguarding Your Ears in a Noisy Setting
Obviously, musicians are not the only individuals who are exposed to a noisy workplace environment. Nor are they the only group of professionals who have formulated a fatalistic approach to the harm caused by loud noise. But basic levels of hearing protection have been more quickly embraced by other occupations like construction and manufacturing.
Probably this has a couple of reasons:
- Musicians need to be able to hear rather well when performing, even when they’re playing the same material every day. There can be some resistance to hearing protection that seems as if it might affect one’s hearing ability. This resistance is usually rooted in misinformation, it should be mentioned.
- A construction or manufacturing environment is replete with risk (hard hat required, or so the saying goes). So construction laborers, site foremen, and managers are likely more accustomed to donning protective equipment.
- In many artistic industries, there’s a sense that you should feel lucky just to have an opportunity, that no matter how harshly you’re treated, there’s somebody who would be excited to be in your position. So many musicians might not want to make waves or whine about inadequate hearing protection.
This “part of the job” culture affects more than just the musicians, unfortunately. There’s an implied expectation that others who are working in the music business such as roadies and producers go along with this unsafe mentality.
Norms Are Changing
There are two reasons that this is transforming, fortunately. The first is a landmark case against the Royal Opera House in London. During a certain concert, a viola player was seated directly in front of the brass section and exposed to over 130dB of noise. That’s roughly equivalent to a full-sized jet engine!
In most cases, if you were going to be subjected to that amount of noise, you would be provided with hearing protection. But the viola player suffered with long bouts of tinnitus and overall hearing loss because she wasn’t provided hearing protection.
When the courts found The Royal Opera House negligent and handed down a ruling for the viola player, it was a clear message that the music industry would have to take hearing protection laws seriously, and that the industry should stop thinking of itself as an exceptional circumstance and instead invest in appropriate hearing protection for all employees and contractors involved.
Hearing Loss Doesn’t Need to be Inevitable For Musicians
The number of individuals in the music industry who are afflicted by tinnitus is mindblowingly high. And that’s the reason that around the world there’s a campaign to raise awareness.
Everyone from wedding DJs to classical music performers to rock stars and their roadies are in danger of experiencing “acoustic shock,” a response to very loud noises which includes the onset of tinnitus, hyperacusis, and loss of hearing. There is an escalating chance of suffering irreversible injury the more acoustic shock a person sustains.
You can be protected without diminishing musical capabilities by using earplugs that are specially created for musicians or other cutting-edge hearing protection devices. You’ll still be able to hear what you need to hear, but your ears will be safeguarded.
Transforming The Culture in The Music Business
The ideal hearing protection equipment is available and ready. At this stage, safeguarding the hearing of musicians is more about transforming the culture within the music and entertainment industry. That’s a huge task, but it’s one that’s already showing some results. (the decision against the Royal Opera House has definitely provided some urgency for the industry to pay attention to this problem).
In the industry, tinnitus is very common. But this doesn’t have to be how it is. Loss of hearing should never be “part of the job,” regardless of what job you happen to have.
Do you play music professionally? If you don’t want your performance to be impacted, ask us how to protect your ears.