Seen the film It’s All Gone Pete Tong? In it, musician-cum-DJ Frankie Wilde loses his hearing due to excessive exposure to loud music. It’s All Gone Pete Tong is a comedy, but how much should DJs worry about their hearing in the real world? You’ve heard all the usual advice – wear earplugs, avoid loud noise, blah blah blah. But what do real DJs actually do in the field? And what should you be bearing in mind?. I have DJed for many years and spoken to plenty of pros DJs about this. So here’s some advice that the doctor won’t give you (but that some experienced DJs just might). Take it or leave it…
1. Sound quality and volume are linked
If you’re going to work in a loud place (say at a DJ residency), try and make sure the sound quality is good. A really good PA, fine-tuned by a skilled sound technician, will harm your ears less than a shitty, unserviced old Peavey, distorted to crap by some muppet DJ overriding every gain and volume on the mixer. Be aware that poor quality sound can give you that “post-gig” short-term tinnitus that signals hearing damage just as easily as a great PA system skilfully driven to high volumes.
2. Use decent headphones
Your headphones have to isolate the club outside effectively. If they do that, they don’t have to be so loud inside for you to cue and preview your music when you’re DJing. Spending money on good DJ headphones won’t only help you to be a better DJ, but will help you to preserve your hearing. What cost decent headphones to your enjoyment, once you’ve bought them? Zero. So do it.
3. Drink and drugs will drop your defences
Drink removes your inhibitions. Drugs make you forget when to stop. Both together can keep you up and partying in loud places for days. This is going to take its toll, and not just on your hearing.
4. Pro DJs beware
I’ve worked with 100s of DJs. The top 10% are probably playing 90% of the gigs. They’re the DJs who tend to wear earplugs, and who’ll talk to you about hearing loss. They’re often the ones who to an extent are, Frankie Wilde style, already suffering. As your career progresses, and you get more gigs, you start to go into the danger areas outlined here more frequently. So if you’re lucky enough to start getting bookings every night of the week, just be aware of it and take better precautions.
The recovery time between bouts of abuse (ear or otherwise) is important, and that’s what pro DJs compromise with their career choices. This is where you may find yourself giving earplugs another try, for instance.
5. Clubs are loud. Get used to it.
Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Motorcycling is dangerous. Smoking shortens your life. Junk food makes you fat. Running wrecks your knees. Truth is, everything in life has its cost. I have had some of my most life-changing moments in small rooms listening to deafening music. I wouldn’t change a thing. I like stomach churning, head-invading volume.
Volume and enjoyment are linked up inside me and I can’t break that chain. But I realise I’ve walked a close line, and it may yet come back to haunt me. The trick is, I think, moderation. you know when you’re overdoing it. Cutting back at that point can only help you in the long run, even if the damage is already done.
I’ve just turned 40, and my hearing is not what it was. (Neither is my eyesight, neither are my football skills. Mind you, they were never up to much.) But I don’t have tinnitus or pain or discomfort in my ears, and that’s after 24 years of DJing and 30 years of clubbing. The trouble with tinnitus, though, is that it can get you later, like smoking. Even if I never get it, it’ll still worry me that I might. Do you want to take that risk?
One thing your doctor will tell you is that by the time you notice it, it’s too late. Just bear that in mind as you make your way. Because we wouldn’t want you turning out like Frankie Wilde. (Not seen the film? Do yourself a favour. It’s funny.)