Do you turn up the volume when your favorite tune comes on the radio? Lots of people do that. There’s something intuitive about pumping up the jam. And it’s fun. But, here’s the thing: there can also be considerable damage done.
The connection between music and hearing loss is closer than we previously understood. That has a lot to do with volume (this is based on how many times daily you listen and how excessive the volume is). And many musicians are rethinking how they approach managing the volume of their music.
Musicians And Hearing Loss
It’s a pretty well-known irony that, later in life, classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven was hard of hearing. He couldn’t hear any of the pieces he created (except in his head). There’s even one narrative about how the composer was conducting one of his symphonies and had to be turned around at the end of the performance because he was unable to hear the thundering applause of the audience.
Beethoven may be the first and most well-known example of the deaf musician, but he definitely isn’t the last. In more recent times many musicians who are widely recognized for playing at extremely loud volumes are coming forth with their stories of hearing loss.
From Neil Diamond to Eric Clapton to will.i.am, the stories all sound remarkably similar. Being a musician means spending just about every day stuck between blaring speakers and deafening crowds. The trauma that the ears experience on a daily basis eventually results in noticeable harm: tinnitus and hearing loss.
Not a Musician? Still an Issue
As a non-rock star (at least when it comes to the profession, we all know you’re a rock star in terms of personality), you could have a difficult time connecting this to your personal worries. You’re not playing for huge crowds. And you don’t have huge amplifiers behind you every day.
But your favorite playlist and a set of earbuds are things you do have. And that’s the concern. Thanks to the modern features of earbuds, just about everyone can experience life like a musician, inundated by sound and music that are way too loud.
This one little thing can now become a real issue.
So How Can You Safeguard Your Ears While Listening to Music?
As with most situations admitting that there’s an issue is the first step. Raising awareness can help some people (particularly younger, more naive people) figure out that they’re putting their hearing in danger. But there are other (further) steps you can take too:
- Download a volume-checking app: You may not recognize just how loud a rock concert or music venue is. Wherever you are, the volume of your environment can be measured with one of many free apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone. In this way, when harmful levels are reached you will know it.
- Wear ear protection: When you attend a rock concert (or any sort of musical show or event), use hearing protection. Your experience won’t be lessened by using ear plugs. But your ears will be safeguarded from further harm. (Incidentally, wearing earplugs is what most of your favorite musicians are currently doing to protect their hearing, so even the cool kids are doing it).
- Manage your volume: If you go above a safe listening level, your smartphone may let you know. You should listen to these warnings if you value your long-term hearing.
In a lot of ways, the math here is fairly straight forward: you will have more serious hearing loss in the future the more often you put your hearing at risk. Eric Clapton, for instance, has entirely lost his hearing. He likely wishes he started wearing earplugs a little bit sooner.
Limiting exposure, then, is the best way to reduce damage. For musicians (and for people who happen to work at music venues), that can be tricky. Ear protection may provide part of an answer there.
But all of us would be a little better off if we just turned down the volume to sensible levels.