Who would ever have imagined that a musician could be a rock star? I would never have believed that the word “musician” and the phrase “rock star” could appear in the same sentence!
My surprise stems from the early 1980s whenb the only rock stars were audiologists who wandered into a hearing aid manufacturer’s office. At that time, everything stopped while engineers, marketing people, and other groupies congregated around the audiologist hoping to glean some morsel of clinical truth.
In the 1980s (and before) hearing aid manufacturers were quite divorced from the clinic. Those audiologists who did work with manufacturers back then were intrepid souls whose only weakness was that they had not spent years in the clinic. It was therefore not unusual that the manufacturers were grasping at straws (and the occasional clinical audiologist who would wander into their offices).
As the 1980s progressed, more and more audiologists with clinical experience joined the ranks of the hearing aid manufacturers and more “focus” groups were held. As a result (as well as due to the continual improvement in technology), hearing aids became better suited to the requirements of the hard of hearing consumer. Directional microphones were revisited, as were compressors with a more gradual (less than 2:1) compression ratio.
Well, it’s now time for the musician to see the limelight!
Musicians are an interesting group. They span the bridge between professional (with their own “clinical” experience) and the consumer. Many musicians have a good sense of what sounds right and what does not. It’s time for the musician to become a rock star as well!
Musicians can offer insight (and auditory systems) that will be able to give answers regarding bandwidth requirements, compression characteristics, gain and output estimation, and the subtleties of frequency equalization. These are just features that we audiologists can only guess at, and only then, from an academic perspective. A musician is the real thing.
I am not sure that a musician “focus group” will be successful. Musicians have differing opinions and most importantly, have different jargon to describe what they mean. This jargon issue has long kept audiologists and hearing aid manufacturers apart. In a focus group, one musician may talk about clarity, whereas another may talk about naturalness of the music- despite being differing elements of the same electro-acoustic property being investigated.
I would strongly recommend that any investigation with a musician be an “N of 1” study, where a single musician’s perspectives and comments can be integrated into the development and alteration of available technologies. Having more than one musician in a room (sounds like the beginning of a joke…) would just add to the variability of the data and would possibly swamp the values of any real contributions.
I would like to offer a wager at this point to all hearing aid manufacturers: I will offer to buy a beer to anyone from a manufacturer (who attends a convention where we are both participating) who seeks out some musicians to give constructive feedback regarding some aspects of the electro-acoustic parameters of a hearing aid. If you do seek out musicians, the free beer will be a small benefit to the large benefit that the musicians will be able to offer the manufacturers.
It’s time for the musician to become the rock star of our industry. Audiologists have had their say.