Why Musicians Get Tinnitus

When Spinal Tap turned it up to 11, they definitely weren’t thinking about tinnitus. Neither were thousands of real-life musicians who spent years onstage and who now—some still in the prime of their careers—find their time consumed by trips to the ear doctor.

In a Spinner interview on the subject of tinnitus (that buzzing, ringing sound that plagues scores of musicians), 24-year-old Canadian star Grimes was quoted as tweeting, “im having trouble w hearing loss, tinnitus & am trying 2 stay away from loud music 4 a bit.” The confession preceded the cancellation of her entire European tour. In The Sun, a British publication, will.i.am describes a similar battle with tinnitus: “I can’t be still. Work calms me down. I can’t be quiet as that’s when I notice the ringing in my ears. There’s always a beep there, every day, all day.”

On the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) website, a page titled “Musicians with Tinnitus” makes the correlation between stage time and hearing damage even clearer. A list of more than 60 famous musicians, from Cher to Trent Reznor, shows a genre-blind epidemic of hearing loss.

The Smart Way to Play

You don’t have to abandon the stage to save your hearing. Here are a few tips for keeping your ears intact while still rocking the free world:

  • Wear in-ear monitors while practicing and performing.
  • Tell the sound crew to go easy on the volume.
  • Try to keep your distance from speakers and amps.
  • Let your ears rest and recover after each concert.
  • Get your hearing tested regularly.

Even away from concerts, it’s a good idea to pay attention to noise levels. Loud restaurants and nightclubs can be almost as bad as a (quieter) rock concert, which means that limiting your exposure is usually for the best.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” still makes a great mantra, but Neil Young—another famous tinnitus sufferer—probably wishes he’d done a bit less “burning” in the hearing department.

Safe hearing volumes hover at around 60 decibels—the volume at which most normal conversations take place. By contrast, the average rock concert ranges between 100 and 120. These high decibel levels can do a lot of damage very quickly, which makes in-ear monitors or earplugs an essential part of your musician’s kit.

Because our ears tend to acclimate to noise (one of our body’s defense mechanisms), it can be tough to tell whether the volume is too loud. One way to get around this is by establishing a baseline before you start playing or listening to music. Find a quiet space and set your MP3 player or radio to a comfortable volume. If you notice yourself cranking the volume up later—whether because of background noise or a desire for more noise—you’ll know that it’s time to use hearing protection.

If You’ve Never Worn Earplugs…

If you’ve already been to a handful of concerts and you didn’t wear earplugs to any of them, there’s a chance your hearing has already been damaged. The good news? You can find out with a simple, painless hearing test. Call us at (918) 602-4109 to schedule a comprehensive hearing check today.