The Musician as an Advocate

Marshall Chasin
May 31, 2016

I recall doing some media events as far back as the 1980s, usually in conjunction with a professional musician, about the importance of protecting your hearing. If it was a phone-in show, the musician handled 90% of the calls and I was given 1 or 2.  Similarly over the years, if I did a media event alone, there was little feedback at all, just another run of the mill news story. But if Pete Townsend of The Who (actually in Canada, we call the group, The Whom) went on the air, the story was picked up and carried around the world.

Recently I did a series of media events with Jann Arden , a well-known Canadian singer/songwriter. This was for a “May is speech and hearing awareness month” activity.  And the same thing happened- hard to get a word in edgewise. But unlike the 1980s, I thought that that should be exactly the way it was supposed to happen.

This is not an ego thing; the information may come from the field of audiology, but the packaging and color-commentary about that information should come from one of their own. A musician-advocate may get a few things wrong here and there, but the message always comes through clearly.  And in many cases, it’s the personal story of the musician that is more important than how to read an audiogram.

I must admit that early on in my career, I did consider this to be an ego thing; two people being interviewed but the interest being very much directed to the musician and their latest record (and whether they are still seeing their ex-husband or wife). And when the musician did say something that wasn’t quite correct, I would cringe slightly.

Now-a-days, I just go with the flow. It’s true that the musician probably would only have gotten a C- on their audiology test, but it’s still a passing grade.  The musician may propagate an untrue myth here and there that is based only on anecdote, but this may add a bit more color to a seemingly dry topic.  I am quite satisfied to just sit back and let the musician do all of the work.

I recall explaining about sound level and dose and the importance of intermittence in listening to loud music.  After a short pause the accompanying musician just said “if your favorite song comes on, turn up the volume; and then reduce the volume again once the song is over“.  I couldn’t have said it better myself!  Sometimes it takes someone who is a bit further from the trees to see the forest.

Having said all of this, it still would be nice to have the musician (or other spokesperson) have a list of the basic facts.  In media cases like the one I recently did with Jann Arden, by the 10th or 11th media talk, Jann had absorbed everything that I had to say and had nicely repackaged it with her words and style.  And I do admit that Jann’s very natural repackaging was better than anything that I could have hoped for.

I would suggest that as audiologists we can take about 5 minutes before a media event and just give the musician a very brief Audiology and Noise 101 course that touches on the following “talking points”:

  1. Music exposure is very much like factory noise exposure.
  2. Regardless of the music, hearing loss shows up near the top end of the piano keyboard.
  3. Intense sound is not necessarily loud- even a telephone dial tone can be in excess of 85 dBA.
  4. Moderation, like everything else in life, makes good common sense- if your favorite song comes on turn up the volume, just turn it back down afterwards.
  5. Hearing protection can be quite useful and can still allow you to enjoy the music.
  6. A 30-40 decibel hearing loss is like listening while under the water.
  7. If your ears ring, don’t do that again (at least not without hearing protection).
  8. If you are concerned, see an audiologist.

That’s really all the public needs to know. And this can come from someone like me who has taken numerous audiology courses, or equally, someone like your favorite musician who has “been there”.


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