Musicians and Hearing Loss

 The topic of music and hearing loss has been all over the news, particularly with regard to the wildly popular iPods and other MP3 players (see News). This issue of The Hearing Review focuses on music and the risk of hearing loss for musicians and audiophiles. The staff of HR thanks Marshall Chasin, AuD, a world authority on the subject who serves as guest-editor for this special section of the magazine. Chasin has invited a stellar collection of experts to write on music-induced hearing loss from the perspectives of the medical evaluation; testing and fitting for hearing aids; room acoustics; hearing conservation including earplugs, onstage in-ear monitors, and a unique new program for music schools; portable music players, and the physical characteristics of music. In my admittedly biased opinion, it represents one of the best surveys on the topic.

At one point in my life—long before my favorite band was The Wiggles and my favorite singer was Pete (not Bob) Seeger singing children’s songs—I had the great fortune to hang out with a lot of musicians. Most were club guitarists, drummers, and singers who, during the mid-80s and early-90s, played in various bands in the Twin Cities, with some of the more successful ones playing circuits in the Midwest. My roommate in the mid-80s was a very talented drummer who was hellbent on becoming the next Buddy Rich (complete with contorted facial gestures). Only a few years ago did he quit gigging full time, after a successful but somewhat frustrating 20-year career of busted bands and studio work. Another friend still leads a band and has recently put out two well-reviewed CDs—while working and/or touring every weekend, taking care of his two young boys, and teaching piano lessons at local music stores.

There exists a popular notion that a rock musician’s life is party-filled, glamorous, and perhaps even a bit shiftless. While the former may hold true for some, I can attest to the fact that the last two certainly don’t. The musicians who I’ve known did live and play hard, but they also worked hard—often struggling to maintain a band job and “a real job” against extraordinary odds. In some ways, I came to see their musical talents as something of a curse: From my (non-musically talented) perspective, their dedication to their craft, their non-stop practicing, and their “gigging” lives seemed like too much sacrifice. Their professional problems included low pay, dreadful hours, and bickering band members who made the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap look like a picnic. Lugging instruments and equipment across the frozen Great Plains and spending hours staring out the windows of station wagons and vans that always seemed to lack a properly functioning heater—as well as enduring those cold journeys with fellow band-members who could, at any moment, change from the best of friends to the worst of enemies—looked to me to be a prescription for clinical depression. But it was obvious why they did it: They loved playing music and loved seeing people enjoy their music. Many of them now have the tell-tale cocking of the head and leaning forward during conversations.

While I would guess that most professional musicians are employed outside of the club scene, I would also wager that most have to deal with the same extraordinary career demands. The preservation of their hearing is probably one of the last things on their minds, but they can immediately understand its importance. The hearing care field has an obligation and a great opportunity to help musicians—whether they’re involved in rock/country groups, symphonies, or the local high school band. Music makes us happy and adds to the quality of our lives, and musicians deserve our respect and can greatly benefit from our field’s expertise and services. Further, providing services to local musicians is an excellent way to advance the cause of hearing conservation and promote your practice. It’s our hope that this issue of HR provides a resource on how to do this.

New at the HR Web site. We’ve recently added to the HR Web site a new feature called Expert Insight in which visitors pose questions to leading authorities in hearing health care then get the answers online. Point your Web browser to www.hearingreview.com to see it!

Karl Strom