We need your ears
We know that exposure to loud noise can lead to hearing loss, with working in noisy environments long known as a culprit. But what effect has loud music had on the population’s hearing? Today we’re launching a mass participation study to see how our listening past affects our hearing present. Here Tony Colman, drum & bass DJ and co-founder of the Hospital Records label, tells us how exposure to loud music has affected his hearing ― and why you should take part in our online experiment so scientists can find out more.
How long have you been DJing for?
I’ve only been DJing for 17 years — before that I was playing guitar in several bands. I’ve been making music in the studio for 30 years.
What do you estimate your exposure to loud music to be?
It totally varies day to day. Many days nothing at all — at gigs, a lot — but I stuff my ears with silicone earplugs when I’m not playing myself.
Tell us about when you first realised you had tinnitus.
It was after we did a Hospital Records album launch at a drum & bass night called Movement at Bar Rumba in Piccadilly Circus. I remember thinking “what’s that ringing sound?”, and then I knew what it was. The system on that night was stupidly loud and I remember almost feeling pain in my ears. Is tinnitus something you wished you’d been aware of earlier?
Yes and no. Yes, because I would have taken precautions much earlier, but no, because it may have made me decide to do something else, and I’m glad I didn’t!
Is tinnitus common among your peers?
It is very common. Not just in DJs but in ravers too.
How do you deal with having tinnitus?
I try to use it to my advantage, and to be positive about it. I only have it in my left ear, which is almost totally deaf in the mid–high frequency range. That has its uses when you’re trying to sleep in a noisy hotel — I just sleep on my right side. Also I taught myself to find the tinnitus itself soothing and reassuring, and believe it or not, that works.
How do you protect yourself from any further damage now?
As I said, I go for almost total block-out when I’m not working. I have moulded earplugs, but the problem with those for DJs is that you end up turning the headphones up to compensate. Whenever I DJ after someone who is wearing ear plugs, they always crank the volume right up — which negates the 20 decibel reduction in their earplugs anyway.
Why do you think research into hearing and loud music is important?
It’s very important. I’m lucky enough to have been able to be positive about my hearing damage, but for many people hearing constant white noise, bells and whistles can be soul destroying.
Our online experiment is open to everyone: younger or older in age, better or worse in hearing and with a wide variety of musical experiences and hearing abilities. It involves a questionnaire about your history of listening to loud music – either at gigs or in clubs, or using portable audio devices. You will also be asked to do a short listening experiment, which gives a measurement of your ability to identify words in a background of noise. This is a simple measure of someone’s hearing and is not a substitute for a proper hearing test.
Please contact your GP if you have concerns about your hearing.
The experiment was produced by hearing researchers from the MRC Institute of Hearing Research and the National Institute of Health Research’s Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit. The project is part of our Centenary programme of events and is supported by the Medical Research Foundation.