Getting to Understand Musicians’ Hearing
Nigel Hamilton
Help and Advice Manager
31st March 2015
Getting to Understand Musicians’ Hearing

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been putting a lot of time into a survey about musicians’ hearing.

Why are we doing this?  Well, it’s pretty obvious that hearing is an incredibly important tool for musicians. It’s also really fragile.  When we did a survey of musicians’ health and wellbeing last year, 47% of people responding told us they had experienced some hearing damage. This bears out research elsewhere. For example, a study in Germany found that musicians had nearly four times the incidence of hearing loss of the general population and a 57% greater chance of experiencing tinnitus.

We were also very struck by what Paul Checkley of Musicians Hearing Services told our Giving Committee, “Noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable and 100% irreversible”.

These facts made it clear that, if we really wanted to live up to our name, we had to help musicians protect their hearing and improve the help we offer to those who have suffered hearing damage.

To do this we need to know a lot more detail about the reality of hearing issues for musicians. What sort of problems do they have (tinnitus, for example, or hearing loss in one or both ears), how does it affect them professionally and personally, what do they know about ways of protecting their hearing and how practical or useful do they feel they are?

The survey will give us detailed answers to these and many more questions, as well as giving musicians the opportunity to give us more general comments about the issue and how they feel we can best help them. It’s important that it’s a confidential survey as we know that it can be really hard for a musician, particularly a freelance, to be open about hearing worries.

We’ve also been trying to build up our expertise and develop a network of organisations that can contribute to this work by setting up a hearing steering group. We’re really grateful to our friends from the Musicians Union, Musicians Hearing Services, Leeds University, the British Tinnitus Association, ACS hearing products, and our own committee members and advisers for the time and expertise they have shared with us.

We aim to complete our fact-finding and research stages by May and then spend the summer reviewing our services, getting advice and information up on to our website, and planning a series of activities and events that will really get the word out about not only the importance of musicians’ hearing, but how in practical terms it can be protected and what musicians can do.

This has also been a personal journey for me. I suffered quite substantial hearing loss in one ear early in 2014 and have spent the last year going through the tests, the adjustments and the decisions about whether to spend money on better hearing aids that anyone in those circumstances will go through. As a strictly amateur but very keen musician myself, I also gained some insight into how difficult it can be not to hear your own or other peoples’ instruments properly, of the shortcomings of hearing aids when it comes to music, and what help is available. But that’s another blog. It just makes me realise how much more traumatic it must be for someone whose livelihood depends on having acute hearing, and how important this work is.

Are you a professional musician? 

Please spare us 10-15 minutes to complete our short survey by 15 April.

It is completely confidential and anonymous and you cannot be identified from your answers.

You can also enter a prize draw for £100 worth of iTunes vouchers at the end of the survey, our way of saying thank you for your time.

Join in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #HearForMusicians.