One thing that most young musicians aren’t prepared for is hearing problems later in life. Playing loudly can be a lot of fun, especially in a hot band (the genre doesn’t matter) with an excited crowd. It’s so easy to not even consider hearing protection, but sometimes all it can take is one incident to change your hearing forever thanks to partial hearing loss or tinnitus.
There are some pretty good studies to back this up too. For instance, a German study found that musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession. And they were 57 percent more likely to have tinnitus (the incessant ringing in the ears – something that I have right now as I’m writing this) as a result of what they do.
Consider the following musicians who suffer from hearing problems (thanks to this article by Edna Gundersun):
• Who guitarist Pete Townshend, now nearly deaf, began losing his hearing in the ’70s. On “The Who Tour 1989,” he played guitar behind a glass partition. Who singer Roger Daltrey also suffers from hearing loss.
• Neil Young says his tinnitus began with the recording of 1991 live album Weld, which is why he followed it with mellower Harvest Moon.
• Barbra Streisand, also a tinnitus victim, first had symptoms at age 9.
• Eric Clapton blames his loss of hearing on cranking up the amps during his youth and regrets not heeding warnings to turn down the volume and wear earplugs.
• Ozzy Osbourne says his long career of playing excruciatingly loud metal music left him with a serious case of tinnitus.
• George Martin, the late producer of Beatles albums, began experiencing hearing loss in the ’70s after years of long stretches in the studio. Nearly deaf when he retired in 1998, he was wearing two hearing aids and had learned to lip-read.
• Thomas Bangalter,half of the electronic music duo Daft Punk, quit performing in small clubs to preserve what’s left of his hearing. He got tinnitus after years of exposure to loud music.
• Anthony Kiedis, singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, developed tinnitus during the band’s tour with Nirvana in the early ’90s.
• Danny Elfman gave up performing live with his band Oingo Boingo when his hearing began to fade, and turned to the studio, launching a career as a movie composer.
• Electronica artist Moby got tinnitus after playing with punk bands and now wears earplugs consistently.
• Chris Martin of Coldplay has been struggling with tinnitus since 2002, but says the problem was arrested after he started wearing earplugs.
And there are many more cases, like James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, John Densmore of the Doors and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
Granted, many of these musicians started in the early days of concert sound reinforcement with loud amps on stage and even louder floor monitors. Today’s concert acts have it better thanks to in-ear monitors that contribute to a more quiet stage and no feedback spikes, but it’s all too easy to turn those up too loud as well with the same consequences.
If your hearing is still intact, protect it now. The investment in these earplugs or some like it may be the best $12 you’ll ever make. Believe me, a life without tinnitus is something that you really want to aspire to.