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Musicians: Going Deaf for a Living

Whether you front for a rock band, filling stadiums with screaming fans, or youre first violin at the philharmonic - making music is your business. And, because your sensitive, inner ear mechanisms are regularly bombarded by loud resonating sound, youre going deaf for a living.

It takes amperage and stacks of speakers to hear that guitar solo over 10,000 screaming fans. And, as a professional musician, youre standing right in front of that explosion of decibels. If you play classical music or pops with a large symphony, you experience the same loss of hearing caused by the onslaught of the percussion, horns, reeds and string sections. And as a professional, whos worked hard to reach the pinnacle, quitting isnt an option.

In Ear Monitors (IEMs)

Audiologist, Michael Santucci, founded Sensaphonics to specifically address hearing loss within the professional music community. During an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Santucci was asked why he chose to focus on hearing loss in musicians. Nobody was doing anything for them. Its not regulated like other industries. Why should there be a job requirement for [musicians] to lose their hearing?

Michael Santuccis IEMs, inserted in the ear canal, increase the signal-to-noise ratio delivering more signal (the music) and less noise (everything from the crowd of adoring fans to the public address system [Testtest] to reflected echoes off the acoustically tuned symphony hall). With these devices in place, musicians can have sound delivered electronically directly to the ear. They control, not only the volume of sound, but also the range of sound allowed to enter. So, the lead singer can hear himself, but not be overwhelmed by the percussive bass drum three feet behind him.

Many pros in the music world actually prefer this recording studio approach to the performance of live shows because it allows for more focus on their specific tasks.

Yeah, But What about Image, Dude?

Pete Townsend, the force behind The Who and 07 Tony award-winner for the Broadway adaptation of Townsends rock opera, Tommy, has gone public about his hearing loss on several occasions. The Who were known as rock rebels, with Townsend wind-milling chord strokes and Roger, Keith and John smashing their equipment at the end of their set before stunned audiences worldwide. Thats what rock n roll is all about loud music, rebellion and that live-fast-die-young approach to life.

Today, an older, wiser and deafer Townsend has worked to warn up-and-comers about the seriousness of sound-induced hearing loss. But its a tough sell to a demographic that believes its better to burn out than fade away. (Neil Young)

In his Sun-Times interview, Michael Santucci stated, Safe rock n roll just doesnt sell [to the bands]. But quality of life doesif you lose your hearing, you lose quality of life [and] no artificial device is going to replicate what you had.

Today, a number of bands, Broadway musicians, touring companies and others employ Mr. Santuccis custom-fitted ear plugs, ear monitors and ear phones including the Dave Matthews Band, the Stones (Rolling, that is), Aerosmith, the Blue Man Groups Chicago troupe, the Riverdance company and Cirque du Soleil.

Many other professional musicians employ similar devices, discreetly hidden behind the ear, in the ear or beneath rock star hair (except for Michael Stipe from REM who wears big, honking devices in each ear, but then, hes Michael Stipe, iconoclast).

Musicians Clinics of Canada (MCC)

Dr. Marshall Chasin, Director of Auditory Research at the Musicians Clinics of Canada in Toronto, has written several books on the topic of hearing loss within the professional musician community. Read one.

Musicians and the Prevention of Hearing Loss, published in 1996 (Singular Publishing Group) is a detailed tome on the impact of sound-induced hearing loss on quality of life among musicians. Because of its depth and detail, Dr. Chasin recently published Hear the Music a shorter, one-stop read describing the physiology of hearing and the effect loud very loud music has on the inner workings of the inner ear over time.

Hear the Music is distributed by the Canadian Hearing Society and Westone, a manufacturer and designer of high-quality custom earmolds. Its a must read for each member of every garage band anywhere. The books fact sheet format makes it easy to read, even for the bass player.

How Much?

The basic, entry level custom-fit IEM from Sensaphonics will set you back $750 for the pair. Top-of-the-line ear protection devices go for $2,500 more than the average, starving musician can afford.

The solution? Well, do something! If you dont have the cash for one of Mr. Santuccis in-ear monitors, spend what you can to protect what you need your hearing. A pair of ear plugs goes for about $10 at the local pharmacy. And wearing them will dampen sound levels at least enough to protect against hearing loss. If you can spend more, do so. Once youve lost your hearing, its not coming back.

As a musician, your first love is music. Imagine losing the ability to hear that music clearly (think Beethoven). Oh, it might take a few years, but maybe not. In fact, exposure to loud noise even once does some inner ear damage. Sitting through one of Springsteens three-hour marathons is definitely going to do more than a little damage.

So plug em up before you power up. Hearing is cool. Dont blow it.

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