Music is like a dream. One that I cannot hear

Your head lays on your fluffy pillow, you’ve had a long old night, stood smack bang in front of the speaker stack. Outside your window everything is still, barring that pesky fox rummaging through the bin. You try to get some much needed zed’s, but you can’t, as you have a constant ringing in your ears that sounds like your mind is running on a dial up internet connection. This my friend, is tinnitus, an all too common condition that affects most of us that spend our time in clubs and a condition that we still don’t do too much about.

As I write this article, I’ve got a low level hum in my right ear. I was playing for five hours at the weekend. Sennheiser HD25 headphones, monitor at a sensible level, but I have never really got to grips with using my custom moulded ear plugs whilst actually DJing. Whilst off duty in the club, yes. But not under my cans, whilst mixing. Not only does this give me the annoying dull tone several days later, but on the night on my drive home, I had a sharp pain in my ear that feels similar to someone pinching your skin.

I was chatting to the Club Manager after that five hour gig and I was asking him about his hearing and also whether he had any measures in place for his staff? He mentioned that it was a requirement of ALL his staff to wear ear protection, but nearly all of them went without. Whilst I was driving home, and with that weird pinching in my ear, I wondered about those club staff, all the bar staff, the bouncers scattered around, all working the whole night, facing high levels of noise throughout. None of them wearing ear protection. I then wondered whether you’d ever get some sort of Class Action type law suit against a venue in the future? These types of law suits aren’t commonplace in the UK, but they are much more prevalent in the US and I’m pretty sure if some bright lawyer somewhere, can whip up enough of a frenzy about tinnitus and loss of hearing and those affected could get a pay out, then it’s a possibility. Admittedly, the club staff wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they are asked by management and decline, but what about all the clubbers?

I would suggest that I’m at the better end of the scale. I spoke to DJ/Producer Ridney, who’s had releases out on labels from Steve Angello’s Size to the mighty Defected Records “I initially had problems at 19. In the last year though it’s pretty much permanent and I’m cautious I need to limit volume in the studio to care for my ears more.” That latter point in itself can be problematical in the studio, when every nuance of a track can matter. If you are a budding producer would that not worry you somewhat?

The cold hard fact of Tinnitus, is that there is no cure for it, yet. There are different levels as I have alluded to. Some have it for a few hours, others have an all-consuming constant drone that can affect their day to day life. DJ David Dunne, a stalwart of the Manchester club scene had a particular issue

“My side effects mean that other high frequencies get blocked out or reduced in volume, so watching TV can be tricky and I have to adjust the E.Q. so that speech is higher than other elements. The other side effect is that if there are more than two different types of noise going on in a room, then one of them becomes more inaudible and it gets hard to hear clearly”

There are so many things you don’t tend to concern yourself about when you are younger, from fun stuff like clubbing in the week, to serious stuff like pensions. At some point those two things and a whole lot more in between, catch up with you. One in ten people suffer from Tinnitus. That’s a hell of a lot of people. Decoded Editor, Damion Pell, recently wrote an article for the North American site that reported on the recent World Health Organization warning against listening to loud music, too often, and that 43 million people between 12-35 already suffer from some hearing loss. Do you really want to be part of that statistic?

Unless there is some type of Armageddon, then it’s pretty fair to say that we aren’t going to stop clubbing any time soon. Conversely clubs aren’t just going to keep the sound levels below 85 decibels, so that everyone can be Tinnitus free. If anything, over the past few years producers have been pushing the envelope with sound to make tracks as loud as possible. In line with that, many DJs biggest enemy, the sound engineer, is tweaking their sound systems to have maximum effect, whilst keeping the clarity of the music intact (if you’ve been to Fabric for instance, you’ll know exactly what I mean). But is there more that can be done by venues to help? Roo a DJ that has taken his experience in the industry in to the festival arena with FestHemel said “Clubs and promoters should be serious about sound systems, EQ and balance in order to save ears too” but is that an idealistic viewpoint?

I’d mainly spoken to DJs and people within the clubbing industry whilst compiling this article, but one person I was lucky to catch up with was Fred Jackson, a Sound Consultant by trade and one with a CV that varies, from working with Bruce Springsteen and a whole host of touring pop artists, to working on everyone’s guilty pleasure (or maybe just mine?) X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Not only does Fred work in this primarily loud profession, but like many that do, has tinnitus and hyperacusis (which is an intolerance to certain sounds, unlike tinnitus, which are sounds that aren’t there) and is keen to push through the boundaries attached to wearing ear protection “The main reason I have found that people do not wear any hearing protection is due to lack of comfort, or they tend to block out certain frequencies that are necessary for hearing speech articulation and some of the pleasant frequencies required in the music we enjoy.

Some people say,‘It’s too expensive!’ I say, ‘How important is your hearing and quality of life?’

My quality of life has been affected by not being able to enjoy music the way I used to.” If you are considering a career in music, don’t you think it’s best to heed the advice of someone that has obviously learnt the unfortunate, hard way?

Realistically, it’s best to look at tinnitus as a condition that you can do a several things to help prevent the din. If you’re a DJ, do you really want to be like Mark Williams “I have a 35% hearing deficiency in my right ear and it will never get better according to the doctors. I have also retired from DJing” that right there, should be a wakeup call to any up and coming young DJ, if none of the other info was resonating with you.

There are a variety of things you can do, especially as a DJ to improve your chances of keeping the dreading tinnitus at bay. I know you may just smash through the free drinks and ignore all of the below, but it really would be advisable to think about some of the following:

Get some custom moulded ear plugs – It could be seen as an expensive outlay (cost can vary and start around GBP150) but DJs regular spend way more than that on naff Beats By Dre headphones. Think of it as an investment. They’ll last for years, unless you’re clumsy and lose them all the time.

Don’t keep the monitor up full blast ALL the time – Put simply, it really isn’t needed. Turn it up when you’re doing your mix, then turn it back down again.

Don’t push the mixer into the RED – Again this seems such a simple thing, but you can guarantee that every night that has several DJs on the line up, one of them is the type that just goes crazy on the gains. Any club worth its salt will have the sound engineer on your case quicker than you say ‘I don’t take requests’, but save yourself the wrath of the sound tech and be mindful of the levels.

Consider getting some in ear monitors – More and more A Lister DJs are going down this route. Laidback Luke is a big advocate and having tried them myself, I can confirm that you can monitor your mixes at a much safer and clearer sound level. Again these will cost you a bit of cash, but what price do you place on your hearing?

As a clubber, I’d go so far as to say you could even keep it as basic as getting some Pluggerz ear plugs from Boots for less than a tenner. They may take a bit of getting used to and the cheaper you go, the more muffled the music will be, but ultimately you’ll thank me in the long run, when you can drift off to sleep without that buzz between your ears and the only sound you’ll hear is that weird sound foxes make when they’re mating.

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About the Author

Resident DJ for Kinky Malinki for over 15 years. Trainer enthusiast, goalkeeper and collector of too much stuff. Have been dipping my toe in to the world of writing for quite some time having written for Azuli Records in the past, along with doing Kinky Malinki’s press work and writing a sneaker spread for an urban lifestyle magazine called 24/7 Live Listings. I’ve always go too much to say, especially when it comes to the dance industry, so what better way than to channel it in to articles for Decoded Magazine.