Hearing health is an issue that has felt almost taboo for musicians, that one of our strongest attributes could be at risk of damage caused by the very thing we create.
We are often exposed to environments of intense noise, reaching decibel limits that cannot be handled for too long without protection. Recognising this as a common health issue, the Musicians Union have offered members the Musicians’ hearing health scheme. The scheme provides musicians with specially tailored ear plugs for an affordable price.
“Noise induced hearing loss is 100% irreversible but is 100% preventable” - Paul Checkley, Musicians Hearing Services
I decided to take up this scheme after being warned by doctors that my exposure to high levels of noise at gig settings was starting to cause some damage. A few friends of mine had tried the scheme so thought I would apply. The application form was incredibly simple in just explaining what environments I was in that exposed my ears to high levels of noise. I put in a few personal details and within a few days I was approved for the scheme.
Free audiological assessment and ear check up from a specialist in musicians' hearing
Once approved I was contacted by my nearest hearing health scheme centre in London at Harley Street Hearing. It was reassuring to have a Harley street audiologist be the provider and really felt like the MU were taking this issue incredibly seriously. So, I went to Harley Street Hearing and it was a quick and clear appointment process.
I had my ears examined by the audiologist. I do get quite a lot of wax build up so I paid for the optional clearing as an extra, if you are applying it probably would be useful to make sure your ears don’t have too much of a wax build up. You can use ear drops, or olive oil and cotton wool a week or so before just to clear, or even see your GP to get them cleaned in advance. I hadn’t had time hence paying for it on the spot or I would have had to rearrange the appointment.
Ear wax removal
Once my ears were nice and clean I then undertook a hearing test. I was placed in a little sound booth, quite like a studio vocal booth, and was played various pitches of sound and had to press a button when I heard it. This gave the audiologist a chance to profile my current hearing levels and range and assess how it was, luckily the damage it had was very minor.
We then discussed what environments I would use the ear plugs in and what instruments I would be playing and, using diagrams, she helped me understand the impacts of different filters.
After going through the options, I decided on the kind of filter I wanted for my earplugs. I also got to choose cosmetic aspects including what colour I wanted the earplugs to be - I chose bright orange so as not to lose them and also got the connecting string to keep them as a pair.
The set of free custom-made, specialist musicians' ear plugs
Finally, I had my ear molds taken.This is probably the most disconcerting part as you have plastic injected into your ears to create a mold. I’m not normally one for injections but this was kind of relaxing and nice as the liquid plastic was cooling and went in my ears gently.
You do lose hearing momentarily as it is blocking your ear but there wasn’t any discomfort. After the plastic had set, which was quite quick, my molds were gently removed. After this I went and paid, including a small additional fee for home delivery, and within a couple of weeks my molds arrived.
What it’s like using the ear plugs
Ever since receiving the ear plugs I've used them during rehearsals, performing gigs when not using in ear monitors, and also as a concert-goer at gigs. The ear plugs still let me hear what’s going on musically around me, but just quietens things down and removes the dangerous frequencies to great effect.
I nearly always keep them in my bag, and they've stopped me getting tinnitus flare ups after gigs which has been wonderful.
I’d definitely advise MU members to take advantage of this great scheme.