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Tuesday, 23 April 2019 09:57 am

Play it really loud – eh?

Young Kiwis are wrecking their hearing from loud concerts and devices piping music to their ears. TORY REGAN looks at the long-term damage.

earplugs1AUTOZAMM singer Nick Major wishes he had listened to his father’s advice when it came to his hearing – before listening became too difficult.

Nick has tinnitus, because as a young musician, he didn’t use earplugs when he played gigs.

Tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss, when the sufferer perceives a constant sound in their head or in one or both ears.

Audiologists, musicians and organisations dedicated to hearing are all concerned about hearing loss in young people because of portable music devices and lack of earplugs at concerts.

The main piece of advice is simply that high volumes will cause hearing loss: “Listen loud and lose it.”

If you want to be able to hear the things you love at 40, turn down your portable music devices now and if you want to embrace your love of music at concerts, wear earplugs so you’ll always be able to enjoy these shows.

Conversing with Nick on the phone can be difficult these days. He speaks loudly, not because he is compensating for being in a loud environment but because his hearing damage means he has no idea how loud he is speaking.

The damage hasn’t stopped him from making quality music, though, as Autozamm are soon to release the follow-up to 2008’s Drama Queen album. They began touring last month, although the newest album still hasn’t been released.

earplugs2An interesting fact about Autozamm – who have been together since 2004 – is that bass player Ollie Gordon also suffers hearing damage.

One of the band’s most famous hits was Closer To Home, a catchy song with powerful lyrics about a love interest with a strong hold over the writer. See a live performance of this song and it’s noticeable Nick’s hearing damage doesn’t affect the quality of his ability to play live.

Some people’s tinnitus takes the form of a high-pitched ringing but for Nick the sound in his head is a low-frequency grumbling. “It’s like waking up every morning with a fire-truck outside your window or an earthquake coming,” he says. Silent rooms like bedrooms, as well as rooms crowded with people, are hardest for people with hearing loss to deal with. But those are not the only difficulties.

As a musician Nick says he would like to hear his music the way it is in the studio, but because of his hearing damage, some things don’t come through properly.

To try to prevent further hearing loss, Nick went to an audiologist and spent $350 to have custom earplugs made. “It was something I had to do…a pair of custom plugs lasts you ages. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Instead of buying PlayStation games, Nick says it’s important for musicians to be spending their money looking after their hearing.

But even though some use ear protection, Nick says you’d be hard pressed to find a musician who doesn’t have some form of hearing damage. 

He says young musicians often don’t wear earplugs because they think the way they hear their music will be compromised, but he says that’s just not the case any more. In fact, he says musicians can excel live if they use specialised earplugs.

A stigma surrounds earplug use at concerts, he says. Often, men in particular think they’re tough if they don’t use them and stand as close as possible to the speakers. But earplugs don’t have to be huge and pink. “If you’re serious about your hearing and want to get to 60 without having to scream at people to pass the salt, [they’re necessary].”

ipodThe use of MP3 players and iPods poses the biggest problem for this generation, Nick says, adding quickly: “I’ve never owned one. The Walkman generation all have some form of hearing loss because there was no limitation on volume. It was like a drug – you have a certain amount, then you’re immune to that [amount], so have to have more.”

He believes it is part of the responsibility of concert venues to provide earplugs to patrons, but he thinks the Ministry of Health should subsidise them for that purpose.

He says the band should also take some responsibility for the hearing of people at their concerts and turn their volume down. “Sometimes the music is so loud it feels like it’s breaking up. If it sounds like that, it’s a deaf sound: Man, tell him to turn it the f*** down.”

Lower Hutt music venue Secret Level provides earplugs if asked. Sound from the venue can be so loud that it’s heard 500 metres away.

A survey by the National Foundation for the Deaf found 52% of people would wear earplugs at concerts if they were available free at venues.

Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena has been providing earplugs for their patrons for two years. A spokesperson says earplugs are part of their commitment to patrons.

Arena management hired a team to do an acoustic survey on events and found a possibility of patrons getting hearing loss at concerts.

The San Francisco Bathhouse is another Wellington concert venue that provides earplugs as part of their customer service.

Westpac Trust Stadium is among venues that don’t provide hearing protection. A spokesperson says the stadium has never had any complaints about sound being too loud. He says people know what to expect when they go to a rock concert at the stadium and they need to take responsibility and come equipped.

Wellington gym Les Mills provides earplugs for members, particularly older people, who find the gym’s music too loud while exercising. 

Wellington audiologist Estelle Olivier says if gyms can provide earplugs, gig organisers should provide them, too. “Earplugs need to be made hip and cool and be promoted as ‘the in thing to do’.”

She says people going to concerts need to have some personal responsibility towards their hearing, but to do that they need to be educated about the damage that can be done at concerts.

The amount of hearing damage a person can suffer at concerts depends on the level of exposure, but in some cases the damage will be instant and there is nothing even earplugs can do to prevent it. If a person is standing by the speakers, the sound could be up to 100-110 decibels and there’s no protection.

Permanent damage can also occur from listening to sound at 85-90 decibels for eight hours a day, but Ms Olivier says some people have more sensitive hearing than others and for them, more caution should be taken.

As for hearing loss caused by iPods and MP3 players, she says the best way to prevent damage is to be responsible with the volume. “About two-thirds or half the maximum volume is the safest level.”

She recommends that people using portable music players should try not to compensate for background noise when on trains or busses, because it can push volume up too loud. If you must use portable music on public transport, she says custom-made earpieces for Ipods and MP3 players are worthwhile. They cost $60-$70 apiece and keep music volume at a non-damaging level while blocking unwanted sound.

The foundation has many tips on its website for concert-goers as well as for frequent users of portable music players. In its most recent survey, seven out of 10 under-30-year-olds were experiencing symptoms of permanent hearing damage caused by listening to loud music.

The survey of 1000 New Zealanders showed that just 6% bothered to regularly take hearing precautions, such as wearing earplugs or reducing the volume when listening to music. They found deafness was the disability under-30s felt they could cope with the least. However, 24% didn’t know how they could save their hearing.

Of the people in this age group surveyed who had hearing damage, 38% say listening to loud music was the cause.

The foundation says the most frustrating thing about hearing loss in today’s youth is that it is completely and easily preventable.

For Nick Major, the frustration is having to ask people to repeat themselves. “I think my mum put it down to being a boy and choosing to block out what she was saying, but I was mishearing.”

 He says as a vocalist he found wearing earplugs hard at first because he felt removed from the audience, but he still strongly pushes f the importance of earplugs. Not wearing them is just “a human ego thing and macho bullshit”.

He just wants to maintain the hearing he has left.

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is a Whitireia Journalism graduate who loves writing, computers, cooking reading and creating controversy, something she did frequently during her time at Whitireia.
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  1. awesome article! really good to see this kind of news story making it on here- not just for awareness, but a interesting piece too!

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