Updated January 26, 2018

DJing and the Dangers of Hearing Loss

Back in January of 2015, house music legend Lil Louis was hospitalized in Manchester after suffering a career-altering blow: an injury which has left him with permanent hearing loss.

This came right on the cusp of Lil Louis’ release of his self-proclaimed “best album of [his] life”. Someone apparently wandered into the booth and set off a CO2 cannon next to him, without notice, causing the injury.

The legendary producer/DJ left some words on his Facebook page that night, addressing the situation and explaining the reason he couldn’t play for them that night:

Dear Manchester.

I know you wondered what happened on Saturday. I’ll explain. I was really excited to play for you, thus, deeply disappointed that I didn’t. As usual, I landed then went to Soundcheck. As we were about to leave, this idiot came into the booth and without notice, decided to show off a new toy (a very powerful CO2 cannon blaster machine), which seemed 12 inches from my left ear. As he shot it, the compressed air that blasted out of the cannon was louder and more shrill than anything I’d ever heard. It hurt so bad, I jumped in the air and screamed. The pain was followed by an intense ringing and muffled silence. The left side of the room went dead, and I couldn’t hear anything except that ring. I was taken to the hospital, where I spent the night being passed around a bevy of doctors including an ENT specialist. I was diagnosed with SIHL (sound induced hearing loss), a permanent hearing loss, and given a strong steroid medication. I haven’t been able to easily walk straight (my equilibrium is off), so I can’t work out, hold down food, and I’m nauseous and lightheaded. I’ve gone from sleeping two hours a day to being in bed for two days.

I am fucking upset, because this idiot, (a manager no less) should have known better. And not only did he prevent me from playing for you, he may have ended my career as a DJ and Artist. I’m not looking for sympathy, but to prevent any new rumors from milling, instead of handling it privately as usual, this time I’m sharing the details.

Know that I live for three things, God, to finish this film, and create and play music for you. I’ve been able to handle everything life has thrown me. But I don’t know what will come of this. While writing this, I thought about the Serenity Prayer my mom gave me at 5. I understand why now. This is beyond my control, so I have to accept whatever comes. But I’m praying, because I’ve made the best album of my life, and want to give you that, the film, and the best DJing, which is still in front of me. In two hours, I have to take further tests. Wish me luck…

Musically yours,
Lil Louis.

Exactly one month after this post was made, Louis got back on and confirmed that he has indeed suffered permanent damage.  He also briefly states his current career aspirations.

Hi

Appreciate all of your love.

Regretfully I have been told that I have suffered permanent damage in my left ear. Difficult as this has been to fathom, I’ve excepted this as my new normal.

I’ve considered walking away a thousand times… Until this morning when I was awakened by a voice that said, “You have a gift”.

Hearing that voice, I realised the gift God gave me was not in my ears. It was where I’ve heard everything I ever created first, in my mind.

So for my father and everyone who prayed for me, I move ONWARDS… I will not stop. Even if I can only hear with one ear, I’ll play twice as loud, so you can feel it…

Sincerely

Lil Louis

I’m pleased to see that Louis seems to be intent on continuing his career, despite his new handicap. He has a seemingly optimistic tone in that last post, which is refreshing to see.

As a DJ, it’s hard not to feel empathy for his situation. I know that it would be brutal for me, personally, because I have a tendency to mix in my headphones. I often have my left cup “on”, and my right cup pulled away so I can hear the nearest monitor. Louis’ new injury would make my current approach impossible, depending on the level of hearing loss that’s been suffered.

I also realize that it just means I would need to adjust how I mix. Start learning to rely on one ear for all my audio cues.  Probably tough to do after playing music for decades, but not impossible.

Still, it provides a scary insight into how easily something we take for granted can be taken away from us.

I wish only the best for Lil Louis, and hope he has little trouble adapting to his new way of listening to the world.

Advice for Safe Ears

Obviously, there’s nothing you can do from stopping a random person from coming up and blowing a CO2 cannon near your face.

But it does have a way of making us hyper-aware of the dangers in the environments a lot of us subject ourselves to. Clubs, festivals, bars, amps, subs… CO2 cannons… the list goes on.

Here are a few pointers for keeping those ears listening.

  • The not-so-silent killer of your hearing is prolonged exposure.  The most likely scenario for you to experience hearing loss is after several hours of listening to music that’s just a bit too loud.  If you’re going at it for a while, consider earplugs with an appropriate attenuation (so you can still hear with clarity).
  • Contributing to the above problem, we tend to experience listening fatigue over time.  We perceive things as quieter the longer we hear them, which makes us turn up the volume.  Be very conscious about what you’re doing to yourself, and your audience, when you turn that knob.  Taking short breaks (take off the headphones, turn off the monitors) for a a minute or two at a time is helpful.
  • In-ear monitors are a valid option for those who can/like to mix entirely in headphones, and can be used to reduce the ambient noise in the room.  Use caution, though!  You can also have the reverse affect by having these up too loud.  Take advantage of your new sound isolation, and use a modest volume.
  • If you hear ringing in your ears, this is tinnitus which is your body’s way of telling you that you’re receiving hearing damage.  If you hear a new ringing in your ears, GO GIVE THEM A REST somewhere quiet.

Above all else, if you’re having trouble hearing at a gig and you’re concerned that you’re going to wreck it… it’s easy to be tempted to crank it up as loud as possible.

But this is the stuff that hearing damage is made of.

Please, please, folks… take care of those ears!