An open letter to DJs

Hey, stupid DJs, listen up!

Actually that’s a really stupid way to begin an open letter to DJs, or for that matter to anyone else.  And I apologize for that, especially if you are bigger than me.  But it did get your attention.

DJs are amazing people who have a memory that is probably unlike that of the vast majority of us other mere humans.  There is no easy way to catalog music- we can try listing music by artist, by genre, and even by the degree of “tear jerkingness” (remember Red Sovine’s song Teddy Bear from the 1970s?). But if someone comes up and says, “Please, oh great and wonderful DJ, play that song that was popular in the 1980s, and was about someone’s best friend eating a turkey sandwich.….”, a DJ can probably pull it out of his (or her)  musical hat.

Having sung the praises of DJs, let’s turn to why they are stupid.

DJs only use their earphones on one ear.  (See picture of DJ SASS who by the way is an incredible DJ).  She’s not stupid- just displaying some “unenlightened auditory behavior”.


So, let’s start the enlightening…

There are three advantages of wearing earphones on both ears (other than looking real groovy):

1. the headphones provide some sound attenuation from the music

2. when sounds are heard in both ears, they add up constructively increasing the loudness (such that the overall monitoring volume level can be lower)

3. there is less masking from the environment (which again means that the overall monitoring volume level can be lower).

Let’s talk about each of these three phenomena in turn:

  1. The headphones provide some sound attenuation from the music.  Headphones are not just for the monitoring of the music.  They can function as hearing protection.  If you don’t believe me, walk around with your headphones on but not plugged into anything- they block out some of the environmental sound.
  2. When sounds are heard in both ears, they add up constructively increasing the loudness.  This means that the overall volume level of the monitoring can be less.  Again, if you don’t believe me, walk around while plugging one ear.  The speech that you do hear will be quieter and less clear.  That is why hearing aids are recommended for both ears for people who need them.  The sound is louder, but this loudness occurs in the brain and is after the inner ear.  The inner ear is where any music-related damage can occur, so it’s nice to have your brain do the adding up of the sound level rather than your ears.
  3. There is less masking from the environment.  When we are in our Porsche car, we have the radio adjusted at a comfortable listening level when at a red light.  But the moment we take off and get onto the highway (especially if your Porsche is a convertible), the environmental noise and wind covers up, or masks, the radio.  We need to turn up the volume on the radio to maintain a comfortable listening level.   It may be ‘comfortably loud’ but in order to have this comfortable volume, it now needs to be much more intense- the volume needs to be turned way up.  It is the intensity of the music that is potentially damaging and not how “loud” we may feel that it is.  Having an earphone on only one ear means that the environmental noise enters the unprotected ear, causing you (the DJ) to turn up the volume to a potentially damaging level.

It may look cool to wear one earphone while performing, but it’s better for your hearing if you wear the earphones covering both ears.  Incidentally, these are the same reasons why it’s better not to share an earphone of your MP3 player with your friend- wear both and it will be safer.

So, DJs can become smarter by wearing earphones on both ears.

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.


  1. This is horribly ill informed. Wearing headphones on just one ear is nothing to do with style. It’s is because when DJing you have the upcoming track in the headphones (or a mix of the coming track and the current one) and use the free ear to listen to what is coming from the monitors. This way you can line up the music in the headphones with that coming from the monitors. So no, DJs are not stupid. You’re stupid.

    1. Thank you for not calling me stupid :). Actually the use of earphones on both ears is much safer and can be used to provide better monitoring and sound quality than using an unprotected ear for monitoring.

      many DJs are now using small portable (usually 4 channel) mixers that they plug their head phones in to with inputs that can allow them to monitor every desirable source, including a feed from the audience that they can attenuate to their own comfortable listening level.

      This reminds me of a conversation that I had years ago with my father-in-law who was a machinist at a steel mill. He always wanted to remove his hearing protection to “hear” the rattle in a machine that needed repair. Instead we rigged up a small pin (like the one used to inflate basketballs) hooked up to #13 hearing aid tubing which he ran under the hearing protectors into his ear. This allowed him to fulfill his monitoring requirements but with safety for his hearing.

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