Do you crank the volume up when your favorite tune comes on the radio? You aren’t alone. When you pump up the music, you can feel it in your gut. And it’s something you can really take pleasure in. But there’s one thing you should understand: it can also result in some considerable damage.
In the past we weren’t familiar with the relationship between music and hearing loss. That has a lot to do with volume (both in terms of sound intensity and the number of listening sessions in a day). And many musicians are rethinking how they approach coping with 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 composed (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 couldn’t hear the thundering applause of the crowd.
Beethoven is definitely 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–are now going public with their own hearing loss experiences.
From Neil Diamond to Eric Clapton to will.i.am, the stories all seem remarkably similar. Musicians spend a large amount of time dealing with crowd noise and loud speakers. The trauma which the ears experience every day gradually leads to significant harm: hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if You Aren’t a Musician This Could Still be an Issue
You might think that because you’re not personally a rock star or a musician, this may not apply to you. You don’t have millions of cheering fans screaming for you (usually). And you’re not standing near a wall of amplifiers.
But your favorite playlist and a pair of earbuds are things you do have. And that’s the problem. Thanks to the advanced capabilities of earbuds, nearly everyone can experience life like a musician, inundated by sound and music at way too high a volume.
This one little thing can now become a substantial issue.
So When You’re Listening to Music, How Can You Safeguard Your Hearing?
So, first we need to admit there’s a problem (that’s kind of always the first step, but it’s especially true in this case). People are putting their hearing in peril and have to be made aware of it (especially more impressionable, younger people). But there are other (additional) steps you can also take:
- Get a volume-monitoring app: You are probably not aware of the actual volume of a live concert. It can be useful to download one of a few free apps that will give you a volume measurement of your environment. This will help you keep track of what’s dangerous and what’s not.
- Keep your volume under control: Many modern smartphones will let you know when you’re going beyond safe limits on volume. You should listen to these safety measures if you care about your long-term hearing.
- Use ear protection: When you attend a rock concert (or any kind of musical show or event), wear earplugs. Your experience won’t be diminished by using ear plugs. But your ears will be protected from further damage. (By the way, wearing earplugs is what most of your favorite musicians are currently doing to protect their hearing, so even the cool kids are doing it).
In a lot of ways, the math here is quite simple: you will have more severe hearing loss later in life the more often you put your hearing at risk. Eric Clapton, for instance, has completely lost his hearing. He likely wishes he started wearing earplugs a lot sooner.
Decreasing exposure, then, is the best way to limit damage. That can be challenging for individuals who work at a concert venue. Ear protection could provide part of an answer there.
But all of us would be a little better off if we just turned down the volume to practical levels.