Workplace related health problems are very common. They can range from mild injuries, to chronic pain, to debilitating health conditions. Certain workplaces can also render you more susceptible to contagious illness.
Musicians are not immune to this! Our workplace is often mobile, loud, and overwhelming.
Daily activities like practicing, rehearsing, working in the studio, and hauling gear can all lead to a variety of health problems.
If you went to university for musical training, you have probably heard tales of students dropping out or quitting music due to injuries brought on by excessive practicing or poor technique.
Many musicians end up with tinnitus or other hearing problems due to repeated exposure to loud music and problematic frequencies. And we all know an aging sound tech who is prematurely half-deaf.
Beyond that, late nights, early mornings, singing, drinking, and the nature of playing in public spaces all the time leaves many musicians with colds that go on forever.
One in four people experience mental health issues every year, and this affects musicians disproportionately. Addressing this epidemic takes work and is only beginning to be discussed in the mainstream.
Having a long-lasting career in the industry requires you to maintain your health and stamina over the years. Here are a few common health problems musicians encounter and steps you can take to prevent them.
1. Repetitive Strain Injuries, Common In Instrumentalists
Repetitive Strain Injury is a work-related injury that usually occurs in the upper body. Athletes, musicians, and people working in offices are affected by this problem, as their jobs require them to continuously carry out repetitive motions.
Musicians are likely to develop wrist problems, shoulder/elbow problems, back problems, and issues with arthritis in their fingers.
You may experience pain, tenderness, stiffness, throbbing, tingling or numbness, or cramping.
At first, these symptoms are easy to ignore, but without proper treatment, the pain can become unbearable and long-lasting.
Many music careers are cut short due to these issues.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent repetitive strain injuries:
Warm Up Properly & Be Mindful Of Your Technique & Posture
Bad technique is the principal cause of injury. Especially if you’re practicing or rehearsing a lot.
Kurt Cobain apparently suffered terrible back pain, because his guitar was so heavy and he wore it so low.
Obviously, you want to wear your guitar however you want on stage, but when you are rehearsing and practicing, be mindful of how you’re standing or sitting.
Doing even a few minutes of warmups on your instrument (or your voice if you’re a singer) greatly reduces your risk of injury or strain. You’ll also feel way better once you get on stage.
If You Already Have An Injury, See A Massage Therapist Or Physiotherapist
Ask your local musicians union to refer you to a physiotherapist and/or massage therapist who specializes in musician’s injuries.
If you are a member of the union, you can access health insurance that covers the cost of these specialists.
2. Tinnitus & Hearing Loss Due To Loud Ongoing Music
Musicians of all genres are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. This is obviously a problem, because your work depends on your ears.
In addition to hearing loss, musicians can end up with tinnitus – an uncomfortable chronic issue that presents as a ringing in the ears.
Live shows are particularly bad for hearing loss. Amps are loud, the P.A. is loud, and (hopefully) the crowd is loud too.
Even sustained exposure to harsh frequencies and loud music in the studio (when mixing or working on audio) can be bad.
Here are several tips on how to mitigate these issues:
Wear Earplugs At All Live Concerts
You should always track down and use earplugs at a live, loud concert.
Regular earplugs are fine, but they don’t stay in very well, are a little bit ugly, and block out too many good frequencies.
If you’re committing to wearing earplugs to shows, you should invest in a pair of drummer’s plugs available in any music store. They are around $30, discrete, and they allow you to enjoy a concert without any issues. Sometimes they even improve the sound.
Alternatively, you can get molds made of your ears and get proper musician’s earplugs.
Musicians earplugs just lower the overall DBs of the performance – you can still hear everything, it’s just quieter. They are also made to your specifications, so they won’t fall out.
Consider Investing In In-Ear Monitors
Depending on your act, you should consider in-ear monitors. Most larger shows are done with on ears, but it’s not too hard to set up a low-budget version.
Done right, in-ears are a way better monitoring experience. It’s quieter, everything is clear, you can pan instruments left and right, and get the mix sitting exactly as it should.
Work At Lower Volume Levels Whenever Possible
Getting used to rehearsing quietly can be hard, and it doesn’t work for everyone.
But if you can do rehearsals quietly, you can rehearse anywhere and it won’t tire out your ears.
I’m fine with some hearing damage at a show, but it seems like a waste to ruin my ears in rehearsal.
If you’re in the studio, mix and operate at a lower volume. This is easier on your ears, and monitoring at a lower volume is a good mixing habit to develop in general.
3. General Health
The musician lifestyle is hard on your body. Staying up late, working long days, and being on the road are all good ways to get sick.
Not only that, but you are always working in very public spaces around lots of people – there’s just a lot of ways to get sick.
I’m on the road as I write this – today I woke up in a hotel, exercised, took some time for myself, had a multi-vitamin, and got a smoothie at a gas station. Breakfast was not great, but hey – I tried!
You need to take care of yourself. Staying out late and partying every once in a while is unavoidable and part of the job, but it shouldn’t be every night.
There is no excuse for eating terribly when there are grocery stores everywhere. If you’re not staying in hotels, just try to get out and walk or run around.
Do active things on your days off – ride a bike, take a hike, etc.
Also, wash your hands. Bars are gross.
Maintaining routine and getting enough sleep as a musician are both hard things to do. Take some steps to feel healthy whenever you can.
4. Mental Health In Musicians
One of the biggest problems in the music industry is a lack of understanding of mental health and a lack of resources for musicians.
Too many great musicians lose themselves to depression, addiction, or other mental illnesses.
Again, the lifestyle does not help. There’s no routine, not a whole lot of financial stability, a lot of stress, partying, and touring can be hard on relationships too.
There’s also no support, no sick leave, no vacation time.
This year I’ve struggled with my mental well-being and it scared me. I was completely surprised by the things my brain was doing, seemingly without any way to control it.
This is never entirely true.
Taking some time off, eating real food, and trying to sleep more have helped immensely. Still working on sleeping.
Quitting a job that wasn’t working for me and saying no to some musical projects that weren’t working for me were huge.
I developed a good exercise routine that helps a lot.
But I also went and saw a therapist and talked to people, which was hard, but absolutely necessary.
There are low-income counselors and therapists you can likely afford, and you can even go see a family doctor to talk.
Taking care of your mental health as a musician is a lifelong learning curve, but it will pay huge dividends in your daily life and in the success and longevity of your career.