In the music industry, it’s common to wonder if performers suffer damage to their ears, and you would be right to guess that this has happened before- just look at Brian Johnson from renowned rock band AC/DC. Doctors advised him to quit performing live or endure total hearing loss, which he described as “the darkest day of my professional life”. Hearing loss can certainly happen to singers, but are DJs at risk as well? As usual, I did some research to find out.
So, do DJs actually lose their hearing over time? DJs generally do not lose their hearing over time if safety measures are taken. However, DJs are at a greater risk for serious hearing damage than the average person, since they are repeatedly exposed to loud noises/sounds.
Yet, permanent hearing loss could occur with sounds that are loud enough, or with an accident that causes your eardrum to burst.
Why do DJs Experience Hearing Damage?
DJs (and more broadly, people who are exposed to loud noises for long periods of time) experience hearing loss because the ear drum is not made to be exposed to loud noises for extended periods of time. Anyone who’s listened to loud music knows that sound has a lot of power.
Hearing loss results from the cumulative sound power one is exposed to over a certain length of time; which explains why repeated exposure to loud noise is often damaging. Furthermore, DJs are also at a greater risk of hearing loss because their actions usually exceed the noise exposure limits defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) occupational noise exposure.
What Are Some Symptoms of Hearing Loss?
I’m not a doctor by any means, but there are some widely accepted signs of hearing loss. For one thing, if you’ve ever been to a concert, you’ve probably noticed a high pitch ringing sensation in your ears the day after. This is known as acute Tinnitus and is often common in DJs as well.
The ringing will stop after a while, but the more gigs DJs get, the more Tinnitus they will have, and it may never go away.
Other signs of hearing loss include difficulty understanding what is being said, having to ask multiple times what was said, and complaining that people mumble or talk too quickly.
How Can DJs Minimize the Chance of Hearing Damage?
There’s no escaping the fact that DJs are constantly exposed to loud sounds for prolonged periods of time- it’s just the nature of the business. Besides from picking up my favorite pair of earplugs on Amazon, there’s always a risk. Yet, there are things DJs can do to protect their ears, and minimize the effects of hearing damage:
- Make sure the sound quality is good- a quality PA system checked by a sound technician will hurt your ears less than one that hasn’t been serviced in years. Although, poor quality sound can give you short-term tinnitus that signals hearing damage just as easily as a quality sound system kept at high volumes, so keep this in mind.
- Invest in quality headphones. Headphones should effectively isolate the noise from the club outside. Going the extra mile for quality headphones won’t only help you be a better DJ, it will also help you preserve your hearing.
- Avoid drinking and using drugs while performing. Drinking removes your inhibition, and drugs often make you forget when to stop. This mixture can keep you up and partying in loud places for days, which takes its toll not just on you’re hearing, but your mental health as well. So be smart and make good choices.
- The more gigs you get, the more precautions you should take to preserve your hearing- for instance, wearing earplugs can help.
- Know your limits. Be cognizant of when you’re overdoing it and cut back if you feel you’re taking on too much. Moderation is often the best way to go.
Where is a good place to start DJing, so that I minimize the effects of hearing issues?
As I said before, any club is going to be loud, so you have to be accepting of this fact if you want to be a DJ. With that said, some venues are going to be better than others, at least from the standpoint of making your hearing last longer.
When starting out, look for venues that typically have less people and a more laid-back atmosphere, such as coffeehouses and restaurants. These venues give you a chance to build up your hearing tolerance to playing at clubs, since music played here is typically not super-loud, and they generally have less people than clubs or music festivals.
There are also other advantages of starting small. Smaller settings give you confidence starting out, as well as familiarity with what it’s like to play live.
What about exposure time?
The human ear can tolerate short bursts of loud noise up to 30 minute increments so it’s a great idea to break up exposure to noise any longer than that. Good ways to break up exposure and protect your ears include:
- Wearing earplugs when you enter the club, thus eliminating an extra 30-60 minutes of exposure.
- Turning down the monitors between tracks. They will sound quieter over time, and you will want to turn them up. Introducing short (2-3 minute) breaks gives your ears the chance to reset and get familiar with what’s normal again.
- Trusting the sound levels. Set a level you feel comfortable with, and don’t go above that. Have a friend check the dance floor levels periodically when more people arrive and adjust the volume as needed.
- Exiting the venue completely when the set is over and letting your ears recover. If you notice a lot of ringing in your ears, take the next day off. The ears can recover quickly form short-term trauma, but repeated exposure to loud noise could ultimately lead to tinnitus or permanent hearing loss (so be sure to pay attention to how you feel).
Is there certain equipment that helps protect your ears better?
It goes without saying that the type of equipment you use has a big impact on your success as a DJ. Everything in the venue is usually incredibly loud, which requires the headphones and monitors to be turned up even more to overcome this noise.
It’s equally important to find equipment that can protect your ears, however. The trick is to find equipment that allows you to adjust the ambience levels for yourself but keep the room volume the same so that people still have a good time.
There are a few different options that will help you achieve the balance of adjusting the volume to safe levels for yourself, but still keep it loud enough for people to enjoy your set. In-ear monitors are a good option as they reduce the levels of noise in the room, provided you can fully mix in your headphones.
Noise reducing ear plugs are made to lower the overall volume levels without altering how the music sounds. Custom as well as regular varieties exist. I picked up a pair of V-Moda’s Faders on Amazon for when I perform. They’re awesome.
What should I do if I start to experience hearing problems while DJing?
As with any health issue, a good place to start would be to visit your doctor. I’d also suggest investing in quality headphones that block the noise from your surroundings, and possibly limit the number of gigs you play to 1-2 per week.
DJing is meant to be fun, and if you want to do it for a long time, consider taking on less gigs per week or pick up a pair of earplugs on Amazon. This may not be ideal for some (especially for those who are trying to establish themselves in a competitive industry), but it is a good way to ensure that your hearing lasts as long as possible, and therefore allow you to maintain a good quality of life.