Read Time 6 Minutes
Many guitarists spend countless hours developing manual dexterity to play music, but the greatest asset to any musician isn’t their hands – it’s their ears. When composer and musician, Kathy Peck (seen here with her dog Choo Choo) experienced hearing loss playing with her band The Contractions at a gig, she started learning about hearing damage and began a journey of sharing hearing education with musicians everywhere.
In 1988, Kathy co-founded H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), a non-profit organization that was the first to address musician-specific hearing loss issues. In 2011, H.E.A.R. is still going strong and playing an active role in helping educate people about hearing damage and hearing loss.
The executive director of H.E.A.R., Kathy has received prestigious awards for her work and partnered with numerous organizations (such as MTV, Warped Tour and Guitar Player Magazine to name a few) to launch hearing awareness campaigns.
Since she was gracious enough to take time from her busy schedule to discuss H.E.A.R. and hearing loss issues in general here are:
10 Questions with Kathy Peck:
What services does H.E.A.R. offer to musicians and the local Bay Area community?
H.E.A.R. delivers information on hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and other hearing damage; provides hearing appointments (www.hearnet.com, email@example.com) and referrals for hearing help, custom ear impressions for Musicians Earplugs and Personal In Ear Monitors (IEMs), ready-fit HEAR plugs, other hearing protection and hearing screenings. HEAR Partners are a national network of hearing professionals, audiologists, ENTs and music industry professionals who support H.E.A.R.ʼs mission.
H.E.A.R. provides on-site hearing conservation seminars, training and education, hearing screenings, conducts hearing awareness campaigns at music events NAMM, AES, schools, music and sound arts schools and music camps; launches national public service hearing loss prevention campaigns and H.E.A.R. presentation “Listen Smart” DVD hearing education programs.
How prevalent are hearing loss issues in the music industry and in your opinion is the problem getting better or worse?
Noise induced hearing loss is the main cause for nearly one-third of the 28 million Americans with hearing loss. One in twenty youths between the ages of 12 and 19 has enough damage that it may impact their ability to listen and learn.
Typically live sound musicians and engineers suffer high-end noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Lately, besides the high end hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) we find in musicians, we have been seeing a new trend of DJs coming in with low frequency hearing loss.
A H.E.A.R. study is needed to find out if this is a real trend due to sub-sonic noise levels in the DJʼs sound environments. With a drop of your hearing in low frequencies you might miss hearing a train rumbling by, but you could still hear a bird sing.
Is there any way to restore one’s hearing once hearing loss has occurred?
Noise induced hearing loss is permanent. But, the good news is that it is preventable. Hearing damage can happen to anyone in a matter of minutes when your ears are unprotected in sound levels of 110 dB in loud work areas, at concert venues, rehearsal rooms and dance clubs and other noisy environments. Hearing loss can also come on gradually after years of exposure listening to loud music and noise.
Are there diagnostics musicians can run to determine the extent of their hearing damage versus loss?
Yes. A puretone baseline audiogram screening will determine frequency-hearing loss. But, there are many other tests for hearing loss and hearing damage as well as tinnitus (ringing in the ears) assessment, from an audiologist or Ear Nose and Throat (ENT). If loss is discovered outside of normal hearing range a hearing professional should be consulted.
More and more bands are going with in-ear monitors but some systems are capable of generating very loud signal directly into the ear canal. What do you think about in-ear versus stage monitoring?
If the vocalists in your band canʼt hear themselves and each other clearly, off pitch vocals could ruin the sound of your live performance. The same goes for guitarists, drummers and other players. Professional personal monitors or In-ear monitors (IEMs) can deliver studio-quality sound for stage monitoring at a safe listening level by limiting your need for auxiliary amplifiers or wedge floor monitors on stage. But, it is important to have IEMs earpieces of a good professional quality to provide the sound you need to use them at a lower safer volume. You will also need Personal Monitoring Systems (PMS), the wireless transmitter and receiver that send a monitor mix from the mixing board to your IEMs. So this can be more expensive than just the IEMs.
Musicians Earplugs , the industry standard for working musicians, provide a clear quality of sound on stage or from the audience and reduce the volume to a lower safer sound level without sacrificing the quality of sound.
H.E.A.R. makes custom impressions for Musicians Earplugs and IEMs for touring artists, orchestra players, local musicians, DJs, sound engineers, event staff, club goers and others. HEARʼs clients include: the San Francisco Opera Orchestra , San Francisco Symphony, Cirque Du Soleil, Journey, Eric Clapton band, Skywalker Sound and others.
What else do musicians need to know about Musicians Earplugs and IEMs?
Itʼs important to know about cost, fitting and maintenance before you purchase them.
H.E.A.R. is a non-profit public benefit organization so many of our services are low cost and some no cost. We can also help with finding a hearing professional for you in your area.
Originally, guitar amplifiers needed to be turned up loud to get the tubes to distort. While distortion is available at a any volume level now, hearing loss is more of an issue than ever. What preventative steps can musicians take to help protect their hearing in the studio, on stage or at home?
The risk of hearing damage from music depends on: 1) how loud the music is 2) how long you are exposed to the music and 3) your own personal hearing ability and history (pervious noise exposure, hearing loss and your genetic predisposition to hearing loss).
It is important to take short breaks from the sound source. Even a break for five minutes will help reduce the danger from hearing damage.
Wear Musicians Earplugs or other hearing protectors. Musicians Earplugs and Ready-fit HEAR plugs allow you to hear the quality of the sound at a lower volume.
Getting into more specifics, how much exposure to sound can occur on a decibel (dB) exposure level before listeners risk damage?
Listening to ear buds at 30-50 percent of the volume generally measures under 85 dB and is considered safe for an unlimited time. Increasing the volume to 80 percent averages 98 dB and only 23 minutes a day would be considered a safe daily noise dose. Listening at full volume is not safe for any length of time.
Maximum allowable exposure time before hearing damage risk with unprotected ears.
dBA level – Exposure time
- 82dB – 16 hours
- 85dB – 8 hours
- 88dB – 4 hours
- 91dB – 2 hours
- 94dB – 1 hour
- 97dB – 30 minutes
- 100dB – 15 minutes
- 103dB – 7.5 minutes
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Damage:
1) Ringing in your ears, and /or sensitivity to loud noises. 2) Difficulty hearing others when there is background noise 3) People sound like theyʼre mumbling or talking too fast. 4) You need to turn the volume on the TV, ipod or your amp higher than others. 5) You hear the phone better with one ear than the other.
H.E.A.R. is a non-profit organization and there are multiple challenges in starting and maintaining any non-profit. What tips do you have for dealing with adversity?
The Golden Rule.
If people want to get involved with H.E.A.R. what is the best way for them to do so?
You can contact HEAR for more information at Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers/HEARNET (or the Facebook page here) and make it your cause, please donate, put a link on your website, and tell a friend.
Kathy thank you so much for your time!!
You can find out more about Kathy and H.E.A.R. at the HEAR website. In addition to a number of hearing related resources, you can also get the award winning ListenSmart documentary which delves deeper into the specifics of hearing loss and preventative measures as well. Kathy’s music can be heard on the Monina Music site which features both Kathy and David Denny’s music for multimedia.