When your favorite song comes on the radio, do you find yourself cranking up the volume? Lots of people do that. There’s something visceral about pumping up the jam. And it’s enjoyable. But there’s one thing you should recognize: it can also cause some appreciable harm.
The connection between hearing loss and music is closer than we previously concluded. That has a lot to do with volume (both when it comes to sound level and the number of listening sessions in a day). And many musicians are rethinking how they approach dealing with the volume of their music.
Musicians And Hearing Loss
It’s a pretty famous irony that, when he got older, classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven was hard of hearing. He couldn’t hear any of the music he created (except in his head). There’s even one story about how the composer was conducting one of his symphonies and needed to be turned around at the end of the performance because he was unable to hear the thundering applause of the crowd.
Beethoven is certainly not the only instance of hearing problems in musicians. In fact, a far more recent generation of rock musicians, all famous for turning their speakers (and performances) up to 11–have begun to go public with their personal hearing loss experiences.
From Neil Diamond to Eric Clapton to will.i.am, the stories all sound remarkably similar. Being a musician means spending almost every day stuck between blaring speakers and booming crowds. Significant damage including tinnitus and hearing loss will ultimately be the result.
Even if You Aren’t a Musician This Could Still be a Problem
You may think that because you’re not personally a rock star or a musician, this might not apply to you. You don’t have millions of adoring fans screaming at you (usually). And you’re not standing near a wall of amplifiers.
But your favorite playlist and a set of earbuds are things you do have. And that can be a real problem. Thanks to the contemporary capabilities of earbuds, just about everyone can experience life like a musician, flooded by sound and music at way too high a volume.
The ease with which you can expose yourself to damaging and constant sounds make this one time cliche grievance into a substantial cause for alarm.
So When You’re Listening to Music, How Can You Safeguard Your Ears?
So, first we need to admit there’s a problem (that’s usually the first step, but it’s particularly true in this case). Raising awareness will help some people (especially younger, more impressionable people) become aware that they’re putting their hearing in danger. But you also need to take some further steps too:
- Keep your volume in check: Some modern smartphones will let you know when you’re exceeding healthy limits on volume. You should listen to these warnings if you value your long-term hearing.
- Get a volume-monitoring app: You are probably unaware of the actual volume of a live concert. Wherever you are, the volume of your environment can be assessed with one of several free apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone. This will help you monitor what’s dangerous and what’s not.
- Wear earplugs: When you attend a rock concert (or any kind of musical show or event), wear hearing protection. They won’t really lessen your experience. But your ears will be protected from further harm. (And don’t think that using hearing protection will make you uncool because it’s what most of your favorite musicians are doing.).
In many ways, the math here is fairly straight forward: you will have more extreme hearing loss in the future the more often you put your hearing at risk. Eric Clapton, for example, has completely lost his hearing. He probably wishes he begun wearing earplugs a lot sooner.
The best way to minimize your damage, then, is to lessen your exposure. That can be difficult for individuals who work around live music. Part of the solution is wearing hearing protection.
But everybody would be a lot better off if we just turned the volume down to sensible levels.