- Musicians are at a greater risk of developing tinnitus due to their prolonged exposure to loud noises
- From Chris Martin to Ozzy Osbourne, a huge number of musicians have tinnitus
- Most of them have learned to live with the condition, by improving their lifestyle, wearing earplugs on stage, or through other tinnitus treatments
Exposure to loud music for long amounts of time is dangerous. Hearing damage is often permanent and hard to cure – which can be difficult for anyone to cope with, but especially for musicians who rely on their hearing to do their job.
There are a lot of celebrities with tinnitus, and many of them are musicians. That’s because playing music can put you at risk of hearing damage, if you’re not careful to protect your ears.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of the most famous people with tinnitus, what causes the condition, and how musicians deal with tinnitus.
Musician, songwriter and singer Moby has suffered from tinnitus for most of his career, ever since he played in punk bands in his youth. Back then, he didn’t realize the importance of earplugs – all he cared about was rocking out and playing as loud as he could. But then he developed a ringing in his ears. He says:
“When I first started playing in bands I never wore hearing protection and we played as loud as we could. One night I came home from a punk rock show and my ears were ringing, as they often did. And they were still ringing the next day. And the next. Ever since then I’ve always worn some sort of hearing protection when exposed to very loud music. Because I realized that once my hearing is gone it will never return.”
Some very wise words from the man himself. Unfortunately, he had to find out the hard way how important earplugs are – for both musicians and concert-goers!
Hip-hop artist and Black Eyed Peas member Will.I.Am has suffered with tinnitus for many years, and in 2019 he revealed that doctors have told him that his tinnitus will eventually lead to irreversible hearing loss. He said:
“I’m 43. When I went to the doctor and got an ear test, they said ‘Your ears are that of someone a lot older’. In 2007, 2013 and this year , I got all my frequency tests and the curve… it’s proper loss.”
Will.I.Am finds the condition difficult to live with, stating:
“I can’t be still. Work calms me down. I can’t be quiet, as that’s when I notice the ringing in my ears. There’s always a beep there every day, all day now. I don’t know what silence sounds like anymore. Music is the only thing which eases my pain.”
He’s also now making an effort to lead a generally healthier lifestyle – something which can also help tinnitus, as stress has been found to exacerbate the condition.
3. Neil Young
Musical millipede Neil Young is also a victim of hearing damage, which he believes was sustained during the recording and mixing of the live rock and roll album, Weld. That experience led him to creating softer music. As he explains:
“I made ‘Harvest Moon’ because I didn’t want to hear any loud sounds. I still have a little bit of tinnitus, but now I’m not as sensitive to loud sounds as I was for a year after the mixing of ‘Weld’. My hearing’s not perfect but it’s okay.”
4. Ozzy Osbourne
Black Sabbath were famous for their raucous live shows, and lead singer Ozzy Osbourne even holds the Guinness World Record for the longest scream by a crowd without stopping. The scream was recorded at a live show in Finland as part of his publicity campaign for his album ‘Scream’, and lasted for one minute and eight seconds. It was recorded as between 105-107 decibels.
Is it really any wonder, then, that Prince of Darkness suffers from tinnitus? He explains:
“I suffer from permanent tinnitus because of all the headbanging I’ve done. Which means I’ve got this constant ranging in my ears, which has also made me somewhat deaf (or ‘conveniently deaf’, as Sharon calls it). It’s like this WHEEEE!! Noise in my head all the time. Should have worn earplugs, I guess. I still headbang, mind you.”
Today, Ozzy is an advocate for hearing protection, speaking out about his experiences of tinnitus and hearing loss and raising money for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
5. Phil Collins
Another legendary name on the list, Phil Collins announced in 2011 that he was ending his touring career because of his tinnitus. Before then, he’d struggled with his hearing for several years, explaining that in 2000:
“I was recording in the States and had spent the day singing in the studio. Then I collected my daughter from school. We got home, had something to eat, played a video game. Then suddenly my ear went sssssssshh. Within a second my left ear simply closed down. As if I had been under water. I tried to clear it by pinching my nose.”
It turned out that he had a viral condition, caused by stress, with symptoms including vertigo, tinnitus, deafness, nausea and imbalance. You’d expect it to be a nightmare for any professional musician – but Collins was weirdly relieved. He said:
“In a way, I felt like I was a slave to the thing [his music career]. This was like: ‘Sorry man, I can’t do it.’ That’s God saying: ‘Time to stop.’”
He did later continue to tour and make music, although he played potentially his last show in 2022 due to other health issues.
6. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton is one of the most influential guitarists in the world, well-known for playing loud and turning his amp up to eleven. That’s the reason, according to Clapton, why he now suffers from tinnitus:
“I had two 100-watt stacks at the height of things, and I would turn one on for guitar solos. It was mad!”
7. Anthony Kiedis
Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis talks about his experience with tinnitus in his autobiography, saying that years of touring with his band is the cause of the permanent ringing in his ears.
He first realized he was suffering from tinnitus after a concert in 1993, when both Kiedis and the group’s drummer, Chad Smith, heard a constant ringing that didn’t go away. Anthony has also admitted he used to jump from buildings into swimming pools… which isn’t exactly good for your eardrums either! Once, he even broke his back doing this.
8. Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend is the guitarist in The Who, with a career that spans over 50 years. He’s suffered from tinnitus and partial deafness for many years – perhaps no surprise given his extensive exposure to loud music. The Who’s concert in London on 31st May 1976 was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘Loudest Concert Ever’, with a volume level of 126 decibels, measured 32 meters from the stage.
Townshend’s tinnitus and hearing loss was so bad that in 2010, The Who had to cancel a string of concerts. He told Rolling Stone magazine:
“If my hearing is going to be a problem, we’re not delaying shows – we're finished. I can't really see any way around the issue."
However, he reported in 2019 that he no longer suffered from tinnitus, which highlights an important aspect of the condition for many people – it can ebb and flow in its severity.
9. Chris Martin
The Coldplay frontman sought out medical help when his tinnitus became unbearable, and he was given good advice to protect his hearing to prevent the condition from worsening.
Since then, Chris and his Coldplay bandmates have always worn in-ear monitors and custom earplugs to protect them as they perform. He’s also made changes to his lifestyle to improve his health and reduce his stress. Since taking these preventative measures, his tinnitus hasn’t become any worse.
Plus, since he now knows the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss, he always makes sure that his children use hearing protection when watching live shows.
10. Brian Johnson
AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson was told by doctors that he faced total hearing loss if he didn’t stop touring immediately, forcing him to pull out of the band’s 2016 North American tour. He told Rolling Stone magazine:
“It was pretty serious. I couldn’t hear the tone of the guitars at all. It was a horrible kind of deafness. I was literally getting by on muscle memory and mouth shapes. I was starting to really feel bad about the performances in front of the boys, in front of the audience. It was crippling. There’s nothing worse than standing there and not being sure.”
However, with the help of a hearing specialist and an experimental in-ear device, his hearing problems are much improved and he’s able to sing again. A happy ending to a tinnitus story!
11. Thomas Bangalter
In 2002, one half of Daft Punk announced that he would not play in clubs anymore to protect his hearing. He had started to develop tinnitus and even potential deafness. It was later stated that Bangalter had recovered from the condition.
It was stated that “he had a bit of a scare and thought he’d damaged his ear and had to obviously take drastic steps to see how bad the damage was.” It seems harder is not always better!
12. Barbara Streisand
Even though she has been recorded calling her tinnitus “super-sonic hearing”, Mrs Streisand had had a ringing in her ears since she was 9 years old. She says she was afraid to find out what it was, but has learned to live with the constant ringing in her ears, with the help of an audiologist who’s taught her coping strategies.
13. Nick Cave
Nick Cave has called tinnitus “the musician’s curse” as well as “a pain in the arse”. He responded to a letter from a reader in his Red Hand Files series, who asked if he suffers from the condition, and how he deals with it.
“Dear, sweet tinnitus — the musician’s curse. Mine is actually pretty manageable most of the time, it comes and goes, and only really kicks off when I am playing live music, which now I come to think of it is most of the time. An ear specialist once told me there was not much I could do other than to ‘love my tinnitus’ — and then charged me three hundred quid. But, you know, I don’t love my tinnitus, I don’t love my tinnitus at all, it’s a pain in the arse.”
14. Dave Grohl
The frontman of the Foo Fighters has tinnitus and hearing loss, but he won’t wear in-ear monitors to protect his hearing. In an interview with Howard Stern, he explained:
“I haven't had [my ears] tested in a long time, but I know what they're going to say. 'You have hearing damage, tinnitus, in your left ear more so than your right ear. My left ear is kind of worse than my right because my snare drum and my stage monitor when I play the drums [are over on this side].”
When asked why he doesn’t wear hearing protection on stage, he said:
“I've tried the ear monitor thing before, a long time ago, and the problem that I have with it is that it removes you from the natural atmosphere sound. It messes with your spatial understanding of where you are on stage.”
While he might be happy not to wear hearing protection on stage, it’s clear that it’s caused him issues over the years as he admitted in the same interview that he’s been lipreading for 20 years!
15. Huey Lewis
Huey Lewis, of Huey Lewis and The News suffers from Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear condition that can cause vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss. He described the moment he realized he had an issue to Rolling Stone magazine, saying:
“I thought the bass amp had blown a speaker. I just heard this horrible noise and I couldn’t find pitch or even hear myself. It was an absolute nightmare. The worst thing. Just horrible.”
He consulted specialist audiologists, had acupuncture, and changed his diet – all to no avail. He explained how awful it was:
“I was suicidal. There was literally a roaring tinnitus in my head. I just laid in bed. There was nothing I could do. I’d just lay in bed and contemplate my demise.”
Today, his hearing and tinnitus fluctuate: some days are better than others. But he’s learned how to cope with his condition, and although he may never be able to play live again, he’s still writing and recording music, and trying to live life to the full.
Why are musicians more at risk of tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world, with estimates suggesting that as many as 750 million people globally have tinnitus. Further research indicates that around 50 million Americans have tinnitus, and 7.1 million people in the UK. That’s a lot of ringing ears!
Among musicians, the number may be even higher. Some estimates believe that between 30% and 50% of musicians have the condition.
That’s because one of the main causes of tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can either happen as a result of a single exposure to a loud noise, like fireworks, or through prolonged exposure to loud noises over a long period of time. And often, hearing loss and tinnitus go hand-in-hand.
Since the nature of a musician’s job involves lots of exposure to loud noises – as they’re the one creating the loud noises – it figures that they’d be at a higher risk of developing both noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.
There’s a risk of hearing damage when exposed to sounds of 100 decibels for just 15 minutes without protection. And considering that the average rock concert is 104 decibels, if a musician doesn’t wear protection, they run the risk of damaging their hearing very, very quickly.
For musicians, living with tinnitus can be very difficult. The condition can impact how people perceive sound, making it harder for musicians to do their job. It can also be very distressing, and some musicians may even wonder if a diagnosis of tinnitus will be career-ending.
One dedicated study into the impact of tinnitus on professional musicians found that most of the musicians surveyed found tinnitus to be challenging both professionally and personally. The majority of respondents agreed that more education and support is needed for musicians living with tinnitus.
It’s important to remember that tinnitus in musicians is very common. So if you’re a musician with tinnitus, know that you’re not alone!
Tips for managing tinnitus
Whether you’re a musician with tinnitus, or are worried about developing the condition in the future, here are some practical tips that are easy to implement.
First and foremost, hearing protection is very important! Think about these guys and gals next time you head out to a live music event, party or festival, or get ready to play a rock show.
Earplugs like Loop Experience are designed specifically for concerts and festivals, as they filter the sound so you can still hear every little detail – just at a reduced volume. Experience earplugs reduce noise by up to 18 decibels, and have a built-in patented acoustic channel and mesh that filters sound equally across all frequencies. That means you can fully immerse yourself in the experience, while protecting your hearing.
Like some of the musicians above, make an effort to reduce stress in your life, as this can make your tinnitus worse. You could try relaxation techniques and meditation, spend your downtime doing things that bring you joy (whether that’s running marathons or binge watching box sets), volunteering, or spending time with friends and family.
Avoid loud noises
This one is tricky for musicians, but noise-induced hearing loss can occur not only when you’re exposed to loud noises, but also when you’re in close proximity to them. So if you can, avoid the source of loud noises as much as possible, such as not standing right beside the speaker when playing or attending a concert.
Seek professional help
If you have tinnitus, or think you’re at risk of developing it, don’t bury your head in the sand! Speak to a doctor or audiologist as soon as possible. They’ll be able to diagnose whether you have tinnitus and recommend the best treatment for you.
Living with tinnitus as a musician
If you’re a musician with tinnitus, you might be worried about the impact it’ll have on your career or hobby. As you can see, there are lots of famous names who have managed to have a successful career even with a permanent ringing in their ears – so not all is lost!
Don’t be afraid to speak up about your experiences. We guarantee that you’re not the only one living with this condition, and you’re sure to find some comfort (and maybe even some solutions) by speaking to your peers, friends and family.
And don’t forget to wear your earplugs! They’re the best defense when it comes to protecting your hearing, both on and off stage.
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