Hearing loss affects millions of people each year, caused by injury, infection, or age. A leading cause of hearing damage is exposure to dangerously loud noises such as construction sites, heavy traffic, screeching subways, and loud music. A rock concert is around 120 decibels. That’s twice as loud as normal conversation! Hearing damage begins when you are exposed to sounds louder than 85 decibels. Hearing loss profoundly affects musicians. Their profession puts them in the way of severe hearing damage, but their livelihood depends on their hearing! So how do contemporary musicians cope with hearing damage and hearing loss?
Townshend is an English songwriter and lead guitarist for The Who, an iconic rock band. In 1976, The Who performed a concert in London that the Guinness Book of Records named the Loudest Concert Ever. They were known for their intense performances, often destroying instruments on stage. Townshend has partial deafness and tinnitus from his long-term exposure to loud music. He copes by using studio systems to remove high-frequency sounds from his studio. He has also funded H.E.A.R., the Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, an organization raising awareness for hearing loss caused by loud music.
Wilson is a founding member of the acclaimed band, the Beach Boys. He is deaf in his right ear from childhood abuse. This never stopped him, and he used his left ear to create great music. After several nervous breakdowns and a falling-out with the band, he launched a solo career. His most recent album, No Pier Pressure, was released in April 2015, and Wilson will be touring in the spring of 2016.
Harvey is a talented American jazz singer with three albums. She suffered from bacterial ear infections as a child, and this led to global hearing loss at the age of 18. While her hearing loss put a temporary hold on her musical career, she ultimately returned to singing. She feels the tempo through the vibrations in the floor, and her pianist helps her adjust pitch with hand motions. She can’t hear a single note, but delivers truly inspiring concerts.
Forbes is an American hip-hop artist. He became deaf as a child due to spinal meningitis. He grew up in a musical family, playing drum and guitar, and always wanted a career in music. Forbes co-founded D-PAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network, to make music more accessible to the deaf community. The organization creates American Sign Language for popular music videos by artists such as Eminem and White Stripes.
Roebuck is an opera singer who experienced hearing loss as an adult. When she finally admitted she had debilitating hearing loss, she was fitted for large, behind- the-ear analogue hearing aids. As technology developed, she switched to inner-ear hearing aids. She still performs by watching her fellow musicians closely, and “singing by sensation” rather than overthinking every note.
What you can do
Short exposure to loud music can cause hearing damage, and prolonged exposure can have long-lasting consequences. But don’t miss out on that amazing concert! Wear hearing protection, and never sit directly in front of the speakers. And it’s okay to leave if your ears start to ring. Hearing those last two songs just isn’t worth it. There are so many things in the world worth hearing.