In our modern, fast-paced world, we experience sound in our environment everyday. Some welcome, others, not so much. Noise is all around us – from traffic and music from our phones to an assortment of sounds emanating from nearly every modern-day convenience, like televisions, radios and household appliances.

For the most part, these sounds are at safe levels and do no lasting damage to our hearing. But it’s vitally important to understand that this is not always the case; that sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time. When these sounds damage sensitive structures in the inner ear, they create what’s called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

In many cases, NIHL damage is only temporary. But repeated exposure to excessive noise for extended periods of time can cause permanent damage.

When you have a NIHL, the hair cells in your inner ear have been damaged by the exposure to noise. The hair cells’ ability to pick-up and transmit sound to the brain is therefore reduced.

The cost to the Canadian economy due to hearing loss could be close to $20 billion annually. An Australian study completed in 2006 estimated that costs to their national economy from hearing loss amounted to $10.6 billion annually. On a per capita basis, this could mean an economic loss of more than $16-billion per year for a country of Canada’s population size.

But for someone that has experienced NIHL, the cost is much more personal. It can rob them of their hearing, and livelihood. This is especially true for musicians and those employed more generally in the music and entertainment industry.

When It’s Too Loud, It’s Not Music to the Ears

Those in the music industry are particularly susceptible to a form of NIHL called music-induced hearing loss, or MIHL.

While guitars, violins and drums create music that is pleasant to listen to, they can damage the musician’s hearing as much as a chainsaw or punch press will damage the industrial worker’s hearing. MIHL can certainly diminish one’s enjoyment of music, but for some, it can also mean the end of a promising musical career.

MIHL can affect one ear, or both. Even if you can’t tell that you are damaging your hearing, issues may arise in the future. Not being able to understand other people when they talk, especially on the phone or in a noisy room, are just two examples of how NIHL can become an issue long after the initial exposure to noise. Regardless of how it might affect you, one thing is certain: music-induced hearing loss is something you can prevent.

How Loud is Too Loud MacLeod?

It’s important to know ‘the numbers’ when it comes to sound levels and the potential impact to your hearing, and career.

Scientists measure the levels of different sounds with a unit called the A-weighted decibel (dBA). For example, 0dBA is the quietest level that an individual can hear. A normal conversation usually occurs at around 65dBA where a concert performed by your favourite band probably registers around 120dBA.

Sounds with levels below 70dBA pose no known risk of hearing loss, no matter how long you listen. This is roughly what you would hear if you were driving alone at highway speeds in a family car, with the windows up and the radio turned off.

When sound levels increase, the daily listening time becomes an important risk factor for hearing loss. In general, the louder the sound, the less time it takes to create hearing-related risks. Sounds that are 85dBA, or greater, can permanently damage your ears. At 100dBA, it is estimated that hearing damage can begin to occur within 15 minutes.

Musicians, and those in the industry, are around music and loud noises all day long. Many of those sounds are at volume levels that have the potential to cause hearing damage, and cause MIHL. For example, the following instruments are generally played within the follow sound ranges:

  • Piano: 84dB to 103dB
  • Violin: 82dB to   92dB
  • Flute: 92dB to 103dB
  • Electric Guitar: 92dB to 110dB
  • Tympani & bass drum: 106dB to 110dB
  • Symphonic music peak: 140dB
  • Rock music peak: 150dB

What’s A Musician to Do?

We all dream of being up on stage, performing like our music idols. Though you may want to be just like them in many respects, there are certain risks of being a rock star that you need to avoid.

Eric Clapton, Bono, Sting, Roger Daltrey, Phil Collins, Neil Young and Huey Lewis are just a few of the many musicians who have suffered from music-induced hearing loss. The good news is that, as a musician, you have options. But you need to be proactive and take advantage of every opportunity to minimize your risk of MIHL.

As a musician, follow these simple-to-implement ideas to preserve your hearing for life:

  1. Use customized earplugs designed specially for you as a musician;
  2. Have your hearing checked regularly to identify any possible changes;
  3. Give your ears regular breaks from the music;
  4. Turn down the volume;
  5. Use in-ear personal monitors on stage and in rehearsal so you only hear the monitor mix;
  6. Use a sound level measuring app to know precisely the volume of sound around you. Anything over 85dB is too much; and
  7. Be aware of any excessive exposure to loud sounds and any ringing in the ears – ringing means overexposure to sound.

Don’t Take Our Word for It

We’d like to leave you with a few quotes from some familiar names in the music industry. We hope that their words will inspire you to take care of your hearing today, so that it will last you, and your career, a lifetime.

“I have severe hearing damage. It’s manifested itself as tinnitus, ringing in the ears at frequencies that I play guitar. It hurts, it’s painful, and it’s frustrating.”
Pete Townshend, The Who.

“I was having difficulty hearing the guitars on stage and because I was not able to hear the other musicians clearly, I feared the quality of my performance could be compromised.”
Brian Johnson, AC/DC.

“I have had several consultations with my doctors and it appears that, for the near future, I will be unable to perform on stage at arena and stadium size venues where the sound levels are beyond my current tolerance, without the risk of substantial hearing loss and possibly total deafness. I am personally crushed by this development more than anyone could ever imagine. The emotional experience I feel now is worse than anything I have ever in my life felt before. That was the darkest day of my professional life.”
Brian Johnson, AC/DC, statement on his retirement due to his Hearing Loss.