How to protect your hearing

Help Musicians UK's Health & Welfare Officer Aidan Culley tells us why it's more important than ever for musicians to protect their hearing...


If I’ve learned nothing else from BuzzFeed (and I haven’t) it’s that everybody loves a good list.

Why should you read this one rather than, say, ‘15 pictures of hedgehogs with things that look like hedgehogs’? (Tragically, I didn’t have to make that example up…)  

Hearing loss is completely irreversible, so just one gig could leave you unable to hear some frequencies ever again. Happily, it’s also completely preventable.

Read my six tips for protecting your hearing health... 

Have regular hearing tests

So many musicians we work with at Help Musicians UK (HMUK) are hesitant about getting their hearing tested, wary of what the results might be. That’s totally understandable, but in the majority of cases, the results seem to be better than people expect. Even if they’re not, at least you can do something about it.

Professional musicians can access a hearing test (and more) through our Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme. If you don’t qualify for the scheme and want a hearing test with a musician-specialist audiologist then we’d recommend the Musicians’ Hearing Services.

Know your safe exposure times

It’s not just exposure to loud noise that can cause damage to hearing, but also how long you’re exposed to it. Plug 'em has a nice graphic showing safe exposure times, but also remember that once noise levels exceed 85db, it’s unsafe to be exposed to it without hearing protection. Which leads us seamlessly on to….

Always wear protection

Time to bust the myth that hearing protection detracts from your experience of playing/listening to music.

The stigma that still surrounds wearing hearing protection is almost as ridiculous as it is widespread. It relies on the idea that if you wear hearing protection then you’ll somehow be missing out on the experience of playing or listening to music. Attenuating plugs actually improve the sound of live music. You know if you’re at a gig and the sound engineer just keeps turning everything up to the point where the vocal is lost in a haze of drums and bass? Well, wear proper protection and that will get filtered out, and you can then hear all the elements of the music.

How do I know what protection is right for me?

So, you’ve decided to get some hearing protection? Nice one! But how do you know which is best for you?

It’s well worth a bit of research. Ultimately, you’re going to get the best protection from a set of bespoke earplugs or IEMs. These are moulded to the exact shape of your ear, so can prevent potentially damagingly loud sounds from seeping in.  

Perhaps you’re more of a gig-goer and clubber than performing musician, or else can’t afford to shell out for bespoke protection, in which case universal fit protection with an attenuating filter might be the best option for you. Again, Plug 'em is a great resource for more info about the various options.

Also, steer clear of those foam earplugs, they’re not going to make music sound good and you’d be amazed how many people get put off getting proper hearing protection after using them. Fine for mowing the lawn, awful for listening to music.     

I got hearing protection but it feels weird…

Don’t worry, this is pretty common. It may take a bit of time to get used to wearing hearing protection, but try to get into the habit of taking with you to every gig, club night, and festival you go to. Before you know it, you’d feel weird without them.

Think about other situations you’re exposed to loud noise

Freedom of information requests have shown that noise levels on tube platforms often exceed the 85db safe level.

They’re not perfect, but there are various apps out there that can give you an idea of the kinds of decibel levels you’re being exposed to day-to-day. Try one out and wear hearing protection if you find you’re being exposed to dangerously loud noise.

I hope you find this list more useful than ‘lists of things that look like other things’. If not, here’s the hedgehog one.

Visit the HMUK website for more information. 

Read their previous blog article from HMUK's Matthew Leone on how new artists can prepare themselves for dealing with the pressures of a music industry career. 

Aidan Culley works at HMUK as a Health & Welfare Officer. He looks after the Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme as well as the Emerging Musicians Scheme. When not at work he is a keen guitarist, pianist and occasional DJ.

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by Aidan Culley
February 7, 2018
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