With the live music scene thankfully getting back on its feet after a turbulent couple of years due to the pandemic, musicians and fans are getting back out there to experience the thrill of live performances once again.
Safeguard your hearing and get gig-ready with the best earplugs for concerts
But while we might be eagerly snapping up tickets to see our favourite artists, it seems like a good time to highlight the importance of looking after our hearing - no matter if we’re in the crowd or on the stage.
Last month speaking on The Howard Stern Show, Dave Grohl said he had no doubt that if he went to a hearing specialist they would tell him he was suffering from “hearing damage” due to his years on-stage.
And in 2018, The Who’s Roger Daltrey pleaded with fans to wear ear plugs to gigs, telling the crowd at a solo show in Las Vegas (via The Times): “The trouble with these ear things that I wear is that I am very, very deaf. And I advise you all – all you rock’n’roll fans – take your fucking ear plugs to the gigs. If only we had known when we were younger. We are lip-reading.”
This week, we spoke with Liam Hennessy, the head of health and welfare at Help Musicians, and Paul Checkley, who is partner and clinical director at Harley Street Hearing & Musicians Hearing Services about what fans, and especially musicians, can do to better protect themselves at concerts.
Liam has been with Help Musicians since 2017 and oversees the Health and Welfare team, who provide home visits and financial support for musicians up and down the UK. Liam and his team are also behind the Music Minds Matter initiative and the Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme. Before joining Help Musicians, Liam worked at mental health charity Mind.
Paul has more than 15 years of experience as a Clinical Scientist in the NHS, and specialises in hearing instrument technology and audiological rehabilitation. Paul also spent 10 years working for a leading Swiss hearing tech firm and is a registered clinical ear care practitioner.
Louder: With live music returning, how can artists best ensure their hearing is protected at concerts?
Liam Hennessy: “The last two years have presented numerous challenges for musicians. After a prolonged period away from live music, now is the perfect time to think about protecting your hearing. Help Musicians offers initiatives aimed at preventing career-threatening hearing issues.
“We work with our expert partners Musicians’ Hearing Services to offer audiological assessments alongside providing bespoke, custom-made ear plugs. This service ordinarily costs nearly £250, but Help Musicians subsidises the costs so that the musician only pays £50 or £38.50 if you’re a member of The Musicians’ Union. You can apply by visiting Hear For Musicians."
Louder: Rock music is famed for being loud, but do you think there’s still something of a taboo about admitting to suffering from hearing loss/tinnitus among touring musicians?
LH: “We understand it can be difficult for musicians to talk about hearing loss or tinnitus. This is why we worked alongside the British Tinnitus Association to conduct a piece of research into the experiences of professional musicians and the support that they receive.
“We found there was a significant impact on musicians’ personal and professional lives as a result of tinnitus. For instance, there is a link between tinnitus and anxiety and depression. This is why we encourage musicians to take preventative action and access the support that is available through Help Musicians.
"One of the lasting impacts of this research is the introduction of a monthly support group specifically for professional musicians experiencing tinnitus. This is a fantastic resource for musicians who live with tinnitus – we would encourage you to reach out if this would be beneficial to you."
Louder: How loud is too loud? And should artists, or those who attend a lot of live shows, have regular hearing tests?
Paul Checkley: "In general 85dB is seen as the safe limit after which hearing protection should be worn. The 85dB limit comes from the Control Of Noise at Work Regulations and thus under 85dB is deemed safe for an eight-hour working day. However, for every increase of 3dB there is a doubling of loudness and thus a halving of safe exposure time.
“Once the level gets up to 95 - 100dB or louder, it would only be safe for a matter of minutes. This is why it’s so important to ensure hearing protection is worn. As a general rule, if you have to shout to make yourself heard at a distance of two metres then you are in an environment that is potentially damaging to your hearing. We would recommend a hearing test every one or two years if you are exposed to high sound levels."
Louder: Many high profile artists such as Dave Grohl have spoken about tinnitus and hearing loss. Would you like to see more artists address these issues to spread the word about how best to protect their hearing?
LH: "Hearing loss in the industry appears to be a rising issue. Help Musicians is seeing an increase in the number of musicians getting in touch for help; the British Tinnitus Association also saw a 47% surge in those seeking help for tinnitus during lockdown. Speaking openly about these issues helps to remove the stigma and encourages others to seek help, as well as prompting those without symptoms to regularly check their own hearing health. We would encourage all musicians to take preventative measures to protect their hearing in order to sustain a long and healthy career in music."
Louder: Do you have any general advice for musicians or fans who suffer from tinnitus who still want to play/attend live shows?
PC: "The key here is to ensure that your hearing is protected. There are now special flat-response musicians earplugs, which reduce the level of the music entering the ear but maintain the fidelity by attenuating all frequencies to the same level. Most standard earplugs attenuate more high frequencies, which can result in a dullness of sound and make speech difficult to understand. The flat response plugs simply "reduce the volume" without affecting the sound quality.
“If you are struggling with tinnitus there are a number of techniques and therapies that can help. The best place to start is with your GP who should be able to direct you to someone who can help.”
LH: "I agree with Paul – it is so important to protect your hearing. Please do have a look on the Help Musicians website to see how we might be able to help."
Louder: Fans will often only see an artist once or twice on any given tour, but musicians can be on the road for extended periods. Can venues do more to help touring musicians?
LH: "Musicians are often in loud environments across the breadth of their careers, and it’s not only at gigs where they may face this. Noisy environments could also be in rehearsals, in the studio, during sessions or, depending on their instrument, even just when practising. We would encourage musicians to be thinking about protecting their hearing during all of these events, not just when on tour."
Louder: Should bands cut back on their touring commitments, ie: shorter runs, or could promoters factor in more off days between performances?
LH: "Considering a musician’s health during a touring schedule is certainly important. Not only their physical health, such as their hearing and the risk of physical injuries, but also their mental health. Touring is exhilarating and often vital for musicians' growth, but it also creates extreme highs and lows, can be damaging for sleep patterns, eating habits and often removes routine. These are all factors that should be within a tour schedule.”