Looking for advice: My ears are destroyed - contemplating hanging it up

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by npbassman, Jul 4, 2022.

  1. npbassman


    Apr 25, 2002
    Hey everyone, I haven’t posted in a while but figured I’d drop this half vent/half seeking advice thread.

    I’ve been a life long cover band weekend warrior bassist and a member of TB here since 2002. I still love music and love playing the bass even more, but I think I’m in trouble. I’ll get to the point.

    After years of doing the yacht rock thing, I joined a hard rock gig back in Feb of this year. They were really good and everything was fine at the audition until the first practice where I found out very quickly that they rehearsed at jet engine level decibels. Mind you, I was wearing my custom molded -30DB ear plugs and I knew I was in trouble when I thought to myself, ‘all I hear is guitars and I’m standing next to the drums but I can’t hear them’. It was that loud. Long story short, I said something, but there was no improvement, so I ended up quitting after the second practice. Unfortunately, it was too late because now I have tinnitus and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. Even worse, the way that I hear music and general sound overall is dramatically different now. I have my pbass into Mesa WD800 dialed in and now when I play, it sounds completely different. I can’t hear any of the low end and the entire tone profile sounds completely unrecognizable to me. Also, if I play at a volume any louder than a normal conversation or ‘guitar lesson volume’, my ears start to ring even louder.

    I’ll also say that yes, I have been to an ENT and they said that the ringing is probably permanent and re the frequency loss, advised me to just wait it out until my ears heal but also advised that this may be permanent as well. This really sucks. It’s been 5 months and not only am I sidelined from seeking a new gig, I can’t even noodle around on my own at quiet levels. I have basically stopped playing and have contemplated the hard reality that this may be it for at least a very long time, but this maybe forever.

    Again, I guess the purpose of this thread is to vent and express my sadness that can’t do something that I’ve been doing for the past 25 years, but I’m also wondering if any other TBers have been through this and have any advice for me at this stage of my musical life?
  2. roccobass

    roccobass Still funkin’ in the free world.

    Jun 25, 2014
    I understand what you’re going through. I know I have tinnitus. I try to stay away from loud music situations, be it gig or at a concert just to last longer. I do have plugs. Wish I had them at yesterday’s jazz jam. Accidentally left them in the car. Fill in drummer there kept hitting rim shots. It’s like a physical blow. All I can say is good luck to you and do what you have to do. Get better plugs, if you or lay low for awhile. Good luck.
    Fonkamex, npbassman and mikewalker like this.
  3. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Another tinnitus sufferer here. Was episodic for a long time but became permanent after a gig with a fill-in player back in 2016. Also a motorcycle rider so that may have also contributed. For me, I find it doesn’t impact my listening or playing. If I was a mixing or mastering engineer I would probably need to compensate for it at the frequency it affects me.
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    First, I feel your pain. I had to mourn (and still do at times) the loss of my hearing as I once knew it. Sucks that a lot of music will set my tinnitus off to levels that make music listening not enjoyable. When the ringing gets louder than the music, it ain't no fun.

    What I didn't realize when I was younger was that hearing loss/damage doesn't mean things just get lower. It means they get lower, but we hear things much differently, too. Add tinnitus to that and it can be really tough stuff.

    The good news is this. Though it took time, things CAN get significantly better, and with practice it can be gotten used to and accepted. I just finished setting up some recording gear and have been playing along with a drum machine for about 2 hours. And my ears are barely ringing at all. That's rare, but for many years -about a decade in fact- that was impossible. My ears screamed regularly, to the point where I could understand how some people have gotten severely depressed, even killed themselves over it. That's why I want to say that despite what science and the naysayers will tell you - I am certain it CAN get better.

    Not sure if I mentioned it in the thread I'm about to link to, but one thing that helped a lot was listening to this one guy I played with once who told me that he pretty much cured his tinnitus by meditating and learning to refocus. He said through practice he learned to pretty much turn it off completely, with his mind. I'm not quite there yet and this guy may have had it to a much less degree, but I think there's something to that. I have learned to give it lots less attention.

    Anyhow - people poured lots of helpful info into this thread I started a while back. When you have some time, you might want to dive into it a bit.

    Tinnitus is NOT incurable!

    RE packing it in - that was never an option for me. I love playing too much.

    And RE that band you quit - I'd have had to do the same. I don't put myself in those situations any more.
    dkelley, Fonkamex, Durham52 and 14 others like this.
  5. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1 Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    My tinnitus started 20 years ago. The main culprits were guitar players.
    14 years now with hearing aides. They help a lot and cost a lot.
    Prior to them high frequencies were missing and music sounded muffled.
    I still gig but avoid the loud guys.
    I can pick up my speed if I now the bass lines really well and warm up
    15-30 minutes.
    Salt & caffeine are triggers for tinnitus so keep that in mind.
    Lownote38, Fonkamex and npbassman like this.
  6. Lowendchamp


    Jun 27, 2021
    Shelton WA
    Prior Navy here with some service related hearing loss. The permanent part for me was in the human voice range but I did have some low frequency loss that was temporary. I could still feel the vibration of the notes but because I wanted to hear I just played guitar while my low end loss healed. If nothing else at least you would still be playing strings if you did that. It helped scratch the itch a little but I was really happy to get back to bass. I wish you luck and a Happy Independence Day!
    dkelley, npbassman and villegastx like this.
  7. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years

    May 3, 2008
    Rest your ears. No falling asleep with ear buds. It takes time but they can heal. I’ve been playing live music for over 50 years and done damage to my ears. Maybe twenty years ago I started using ear protection and within the last 4 years hearing aids.
    The in-canal hearing aids work best for me blocking out louder rim shots and sound spikes. If you sing they also help your pitch.
    So you’re prolly asking how long before your normal again? A new normal will emerge but your probably not going back to your younger self. Recognize where your hearing is at and start from there. The worst days for me were when the sound of voices begin to ‘crumble’ into unintelligible jagged sounds. That was ten years ago and I’m much better and still playing three-four nights a week with weekend gigs(well before the plague).
    I use headphones to listen to music, watch TV as it allows me to control the sound environment and volume. It’s no picnic but it’s livable. Good luck
  8. pepj


    Mar 25, 2021
    My ears are nowhere near as good as they were and I used to hear everything.
    This manifests itself on those gigs where you have to be really on your toes.

    I can generally pinpoint what did that so now I use in ears and plugs as often as possible.
    The only upside is I no longer sit on ceromony and let these things go.
    If someone pushes the volume, I'll react.

    Drummers and gtrs are the worse...I dont even like to see Twins on a gig now...and the older guys dont carry what they dont have to so that helps.

    But basically, the vox are king and everyone has realised there is no gig is you dont serve them well re volume wars.
    npbassman likes this.
  9. thunesBARROW


    Apr 12, 2010
    New York
    Baby your ears. Also take care of your mental health properly. I also have tinnitus and it’s terrible. It really killed my desire to perform in public because of the usually unbearable volume levels most bands play at. I sleep with a loud fan and that helps.

    I still enjoy practicing at home, as well as teaching and playing classical music, usually with a flutist (I also play piano and guitar). Even that is at the limit of what my ears can handle.
  10. Always protect your ears. You can get a lot of your hearing back with hearing aids. I have long hair and nobody in the band even knows I wear them.
  11. JC BASS 91

    JC BASS 91

    Oct 22, 2021
    SW Missouri
    I have had tinnitus for years. The ringing is always there, but I notice it mostly first thing in the morning, after 10-15 minutes, my brain ignores it and I only hear it if I try to hear it. When I joined my current band, the audition made it VERY clear to me that ear protection was going to be a permanent thing with them as they play at ear-splitting volume. I use some really nice ear pro, now, and as I tell the guys in the band, "I want to keep what hearing I have left!". If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to use ear pro all the time...practice, gigs, concerts I attend.

    I feel for you! I hope that in time things clear up and you can go back to playing!
  12. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I have used ear protection at shows and rehearsals for the last 30 years, but sometimes I still wind up taking a beating. My tinnitus will sometimes worsen to the point where it is bothersome after hammering a nail indoors without headphones at work, or running a chop saw unprotected for a split second. But it has always returned to a manageable level. Good luck and take care!!
  13. friskinator


    Apr 5, 2007
    -30DB custom plugs and you got tinnitus after 2 rehearsals? Either you were rehearsing with Motörhead, or you had tinnitus before the rehearsals. Either way, sorry this is happening, and I hope it gets better.
    marchone, mcnach, npbassman and 2 others like this.
  14. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    I suggest (1) taking some time to heal and learn to cope with where your hearing is; (2) getting hearing aids; (3) playing only with low volume bands once you feel comfortable with your ability to play again. Don't ever go near live music without appropriate earplugs.

    This may take a while.
    npbassman and Sub-Frequency like this.
  15. Rick_Bass

    Rick_Bass Suspended Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2020
    I feel your pain man ! --- This is where my hearing got F#@[email protected][email protected]$ UP! ---- Shooting a shotgun with no ear protection than going to a Smashing Pumpkins Concert and watching the Glorious Darcy with her Ampeg810 on 11 for 2 hours from the front row. Good times but a massive ear shattering damaging lifelong consequence. Protect your ears guys and girls. My Tinitus is not too bad. I can hear it ringing right now. I guess it is subjective to the person ... maybe mine would drive you nuts but i can deal with it... I just block it mentaly. Serious thats the key !
    Williethump, Fonkamex and npbassman like this.
  16. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    My experience is that your ears can recover from some of the damage, but not necessarily all of it.

    Twice in my life I did something really stupid and paid for it by taking a very high SPL feedback spike. The spike was in high-mids to treble range and lasted for less than a second. The first occurred in the 90s and I have had tinnitus ever since. The second was a few years ago. It made the tinnitus much more noticeable, and also significantly reduced the sensitivity of my hearing to high frequencies. I barely hear cymbals and high hat in recordings since the last event. But to be fair, I was already lossing quite a bit of sensitivity in the high range.

    Recently I have started noticing cymbals again. This probably because my exposure to high SPL has been more limited than normal. However, since it's motorcycle season, I am sure my hearing threshold will shift, and I will lose the cymbals again.

    AFAIK, about all you can do is try to limit exposure as much as possible. During my professional career I almost always wore ER15-E20 ear plugs, and yes they sound horrible.

    I typically put the ear plugs in before everyone is through setting up their gear. Most of the time ear plugs were enough to keep the exposure below the threshold where significant damage occurs. I also wear triple-flange ear plug when I am riding motorcycles, but a lot of noise still gets to my ears via bone conduction. Finally I have a set of safety ear muffs that I wear for things such as grinding coffee, mowing the lawn,blowing snow, pounding nails with hammers, using power saws and drills, etc.

    Many players like to really crank the volume right after they finish setting up. IMHO this is a mistake because it induces a shift in their hearing before they even get to sound check. My advice is to avoid cranking up, unless it's absolutely necessary. The longer you can delay the hearing shift, the better you will be able to hear throughout the gig.

    About the only advice I can give is to do the best you can to limit exposure. This means always wearing protection when exposed to any significant level of noise. Also it means doing exactly what you did if the SPL is so high that it cuts through your protection (I.E. quit).

    Also try not to fixate on the ringing. If I fixate on the ringing, it's virtually deafening. But most of the time I don't even notice it.
  17. pepj


    Mar 25, 2021
    I have pro20 and pro17 and there is a world of difference.
    I find pro20 unusable...which is obviously not the point.
    I think I wouldn't go near some bands you relate.

    And this thread is a huuuuggggeeee red flag to those currently seemingly unaffected.
    Invest now in moulded plugs and also dont tolerate situations whereby deafening people is the norm.
  18. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass

    May 10, 2006
    Hearing aids can dial in precise boosts of EQ for bandwidths that you've lost. you control them with an app and get presets for regular hearing, music, restaurants, outdoors, and other custom environments. One poster mentioned they're invisible. That's true. Out of the way. Heck, that company called Meta wants us to walk around wearing GOGGLES. Right.
    Aceman and Jason Hollar like this.
  19. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    The best purchase I've ever made was for a pair of custom molded ear plugs. My timing was just a little late.
  20. perfektspace6


    May 9, 2006
    I had the same reaction. I thought hearing issues were the product of cumulative loss over time versus something so abrupt (outside of explosions and other extreme cases)?

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