Mange musikkutøvere har tinnitus. Det kan være svært hemmende og vanskelig for de som rammes. Flere av GramArts medlemmer har ønsket seg faglig innhold rundt dette, og derfor gjennomførte vi november en masterclass om temaet med Jack Rubinacci. Dagen etter tok vi ham med oss i studio og spilte inn denne podcasten. En utrolig informativ og konkret samtale, med tips til både deg som har tinnitus allerede, og til deg som er redd for å få det. Jack er brite, så denne podcasten er på engelsk.

Jack is a professional musician and works with music every day. He has opened for Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, Arcade Fire and many more. He has had tinnitus for 20 years. He is the author of 2 books on tinnitus and have been interviewed multiple times on some of the largest music podcasts in the industry such as Recording Rockstars and Working Class Audio. He is also a group leader at Tinnitus UK and lead a support group forprofessional musicians.

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Musikken i podcasten er laget av Marius Circus, som også er advokat og daglig leder i GramArt, da bedre kjent som Marius Øvrebø-Engemoen.

Takk til TONO, som lot oss låne studioet deres for denne samtalen. Du bør absolutt sjekke ut podcasten deres – Musikkskaperne.

Transkripsjon av samtalen

Denne transkriberingen er gjort med VGs verktøy JOJO. Den er nok langt fra 100%, men for deg som vil søke opp noe fra samtalen, bør den duge.

Lasse: Okay, Jack, welcome.
Jack Rubinacci: Thank you so much.
– How are you on this rainy, cold, horrible November Wednesday?
– I wish there was snow. Snow’s better than rain.
– Yeah, most definitely.
– I’m used to the rain coming from England, though.
– Yeah, but how long has it since you’ve been to England?
– It’s been a long time, actually. I’m going next week. So yeah, probably get some rain in England, too.
– When did you move to Norway?
– Long time ago. (speaking in foreign language) I can speak Italian.
– Yeah, that’s useful.
– Not so useful.
– Okay, let’s just start off by you telling us a little bit about yourself.
– Yeah, so I’m a professional musician. I’ve opened for people like Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, Arcade Fire, played Oslo Spectrum, Norwegian Wood, and been lucky enough to record with producers such as Chad Blake, Peter Gabriel of Real World Studios, and at Abbey Road with Ian Grimble. These are sort of well-known producers. So I live in this sort of environment of writing, recording, producing my own music. So yeah, performing as well.
– When did you start playing music?
– My dad’s a musician. So I met my dad for the first time when I was 11 in Rome, and he took me to where he worked. He worked in a piano bar. He’s the guy you see in those fancy hotels. You know, he’s the guy playing piano. And so I met him, and he sort of introduced me to the world of being a musician, and I was about 11 years old. And it sort of planted a seed in me. I thought that was quite a cool thing because he worked in these very fancy hotels, and we were quite broke, quite poor back then. So it was all a bit of a fantasy world for me at 11 years old. So about 14 years old, I went back to live in England ’cause I was living in Italy at that time. And back home in Birmingham, which is a big industrial rock sort of city, people like Led Zeppelin and Magnum and Duran Duran, UB40, those are sort of the big bands from my hometown. And at 14, I started writing songs, and I just fell in love with the idea of writing songs. I would say I’m primarily a songwriter, even though I love performing. I absolutely love performing, but songwriting is where I sort of really come into my element. And so it started at 14, school bands, that sort of thing. You know, the classic musician thing.
– What’s your main instrument?
– So guitar, piano, but I’d probably say my main instrument is singing. That’s probably what I, you know, I’m not the greatest guitarist, I’m not the greatest piano player. I’m just about okay singing, so I would say singing.
– Birmingham, yeah, that’s a place of legends. Did you see any great shows? Did you see any of the greats in their humble beginnings?
– Well, actually, I was gigging so much back then that from the age of 14, I was playing everywhere. I was playing in all sorts of pubs all around the city. So I was primarily just gigging all the time, and when I got to about 22, I was gigging just every single weekend. So I didn’t really get that much chance to see the greats, although I did, this sounds crazy, I was really, really into Bob Marley at that age. And I saw a photograph of him being in Birmingham, and it was at the back of the Odeon Cinema, because in Birmingham, they used to do gigs in the Odeon Cinema. And I absolutely had to find where he stood and took this photograph, and I sort of figured it out where it was at the back of the cinema. And one day I went in, and I stood in the exact place where Bob Marley stood, and it just sort of, I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I just thought, wow, that’s one step closer to getting close to a legend that I really loved, you know? But yeah, Birmingham is the home of a lot of great rock, and it’s a tough gig in Birmingham, it’s a tough crowd, because they’ve had so many great legends come from there, especially rock music, it’s a very, I mean, it used to be, I suppose now it’s changed, but it used to be very much a rock-orientated city. And if you weren’t any good, they’d let you know real quick, you know? So it was a tough place to play, but yeah, it has a fantastic music culture, and I’m very proud of it, actually.
– Like Sabbath is, Birmingham, isn’t it?
– Absolutely, yeah.
– You never saw them?
– No, we never saw those, the Odeon, you know? But you’ve heard his accents right, you know?
– Yeah, yeah.
– He comes out, it’s funny, when you see the early interviews of me on YouTube, I was in a band called Honeyman, and there’s some early interviews, and I’m talking like that, you know? I don’t know how I lost my accent, but it’s, you know, very Brummie. (laughing)
– You can use it for credibility whenever you need to.
– Well, I don’t know about credibility.
– Today we’re here to talk about tinnitus. This is a hugely important issue, and something that a lot of our members, and a lot of artists and musicians are suffering from. So, can’t you tell us a little bit about your engagement in tinnitus, and a little bit about what tinnitus actually is?
– So, tinnitus is the perception of sound in the head. It can come as ringing, it can come as whooshing sounds. I’ve also been in sessions with a musician that has musical notes, so it can come in many different sounds. It can also be accompanied by hypokosis, which is sensitivity to sound. So that’s what tinnitus is. I got tinnitus at the age of 27, I’m 48 now, so it’s over 20 years. And when I first got it, I made my first mistake, and that was I did nothing about it. I didn’t take hearing protection seriously. And one of the reasons why is because back in 2002, there wasn’t a lot of information out there that could help, specifically musicians. So I made my first mistake, I did nothing. And over the years, I just carried on recording, writing, went to make my first album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World. The playback was always really, really loud. The headphones were always really loud when recording. So when I got to 36, 37, it started to become a real problem. And I knew that I had to start taking the whole thing a bit more seriously. So I got involved in earplugs, silicon-molded earplugs, and that helped a lot. When I was 40, it got even worse, and I knew that it was just progressively getting worse. So I went through all the emotions that musicians go through when they suffer. I, with tinnitus, I went through anxiety, how bad’s it gonna get? Is this the end of my music career? Can I continue? All those sort of emotions. And then in 2020, I was not involved in the tinnitus community at all. I didn’t even know that I wanted people to know that I had tinnitus, ’cause I was afraid that it might, it might stop some opportunities. It might, if I told people that I had tinnitus, I might lose work, I might lose gigs. And it was a real fear, because I’m a gigging musician, you know, gig to gig, that’s how I earn money. So it was a serious sort of thing. But in 2020, I sort of stumbled into this community of musicians with tinnitus, and people with tinnitus in general. And the way it happened was, is that I actually had an operation on my eye, because I came very, very close to going blind in my right eye. I had an undiagnosed detached retina. And if you know anything about a detached retina, it’s really pretty serious stuff. If you don’t get it operated on within a matter of hours or days, you’re in really big trouble. And it went undiagnosed for several days. They thought it was a tear, and actually it was a detachment. So on the Saturday evening, I went to my hospital. They said I was gonna lose the sight in my eye, and I was gonna lose my driver’s license. And I was 45 at the time, so it was a pretty big deal, you know, to lose my license and my eyesight was just, yeah, it was a pretty profound moment. The next day, I went to, here to the Oslo Hospital, and, all of all, and they managed to operate on the eye on Monday, and they saved my vision, and it recovered fully. So after a number of weeks, I felt this, after a number of weeks of recovery, I felt this immense sense of gratitude that I wanted to give something back. And the only thing that I could think of that might have any value is this sort of experience that I built up with tinnitus. So I released a video called A Musician with Tinnitus. And the impact that video had was just very unexpected, to be honest with you. I immediately got approached by musicians from around the world. I got approached from hearing organizations in America, podcasts that wanted to do interviews with me, some of the biggest podcasts in the music industry. And I just couldn’t believe that all of this was happening, because I wasn’t even sure I wanted people to know in the first place. But I felt really good about sharing the advice, and I felt really good about helping people. And it sort of continued from there. And from there, like I say, I’ve done interviews, I’ve been involved in several sort of organizations, such as Tinnitus Australia, the earpiece organization in America. And recently, I’ve become a group leader at Tinnitus UK, leading a group for musicians, a support group for musicians. And I’ve continued to make videos that seem to help people along their journey with their tinnitus. So that’s how I got involved. And like I say, none of it was really planned.
– How was it when you discovered that you had tinnitus yourself? How did you get to learn about the subject?
– I think the reason why I have tools that might not be, that other musicians might not have found on the internet is because I had to sort of find these tools through trial and error myself. Because when I first got tinnitus back in 2002, there wasn’t really anything out there that could help. So when my tinnitus got really bad, I sort of started to really think logically what I could do step by step. And some of the ideas I came up with were ridiculous. But some of the ideas or some of the tools that I use were all things that I came up with myself, but they sort of just stuff that I tried and what worked and what didn’t work. But the way I originally felt was when I first got tinnitus, I knew what it was and I knew it wasn’t gonna go away. I don’t know why, I just knew that this was something I was gonna have to live with. I think I’d heard my grandmothers talk about tinnitus when I was a kid and not that it meant anything to me because I didn’t protect my ears anyway, but I just knew that this was gonna be a condition that I was gonna have for the rest of my life. And that it was scary. And I think, you know, getting back to something that we’ve spoke about before, you and I last year, that the fact that you, Gramart, and Tono have sort of opened up this conversation, sharing this information with your members, I think is absolutely brilliant. You are one of very few because the feeling of loneliness that a musician goes through when they first get tinnitus is profound and it’s very, very scary. So to have facilities like this podcast and other musicians talking about it, I think is really, really fundamental because just talking about it or hearing other musicians talk about it is 50% of the reduction in the fear that musicians go through because it’s a very real fear. Because you can imagine why. A musician loves doing what they do and all of a sudden it’s threatened by this thing. They go on the internet, they look for solutions, and there are no solutions that sort of are obvious. There’s no pill, there’s no magic thing that you can do. Our ears tend to be the forgotten part of our body. You know, if we cut ourselves, we put a plaster on it, we put Pedicept on there, we take care of it. But our ears seem to have gotten forgotten in the whole conversation of our health. It’s really, really a conversation that has to be had because we treat our ears, and when I say we, I say I used to do the same. This is not a judgmental thing because I was the worst. I liked my music loud. I was a troubled young man in my late teens and got into a lot of trouble and music was my sort of, my escape from things. And because of my insecurities, I would get drunk before shows and the first thing I would do is I’d walk over to my guitar amp and I would turn it up. So we’d done the sound check, we’d done all the levels, but I just, I was drunk, I’d turn it up. So they’d turn up their things. We’d play so loud that the barstools would be scared. The lampposts outside the gig would shit themselves. You know, it was that bad. You know, we were really loud. So when I talk about loud, I feel I have to say that because I don’t want to sound judgmental. I’m basically talking to the younger self and myself. We treat our ears like it’s an old hammer at the back of a shed that belonged to our granddad. You know, those old iron hammers that are gonna last more than mankind, you know? We treat them like that, like they’re just not anything to be considered. When really, if you actually understand a little bit about the ear, it is a beautifully complex part of the body. It’s so complex that they can’t fix it yet. They can’t do much to fix tinnitus. That’s how complex it is. Like they can put men on the moon, but they can’t sort of, they haven’t quite fixed this problem yet. So it’s more like, instead of being a hammer, it’s more like being a priceless Stravinsky violin, because it’s actually more priceless than that because you can’t replace them. So the concept of earplugs is an interesting thing. And you mentioned your age, because my experience with talking to musicians, now I don’t go around talking about earplugs. I’m not the earplug police. I don’t, you know, if people want to do it, that’s up to them. I’m not going to go around telling people to put earplugs in, unless they sort of engage in sort of conversation with me.
– I am. I’m the earplug police. So you don’t have to.
– Well, whenever I’m backstage, you know, I sort of notice whether people do and people do or don’t. And my experience is that older musicians, when I say older, I’m talking about, let’s say 35 plus. So not kids, because 35 is not old, but you know, 35 plus. And specifically from 45 and above, their attitude towards their ears is quite cavalier. It’s quite amazing. It’s like, well, I’ve been fine up to now. It’s going to go, it’s going to be fine. If I would have got it, I would have got it by now. But that’s not how it works. You can get tinnitus at 17 and you can get it at 70. And I know because I live in this world, I get contacted virtually every day from people, not just musicians. So I’m a big, big advocate for earplugs, ear defenders in the right situation. It’s not to be overused. It’s not to be sort of, I have to sort of remind myself not to use them all the time, like if I’m on a train or something like that. But if you’re in an environment where it’s, you know, 80 plus dB, I would absolutely recommend using the right ones. Molded, silicon molded earplugs is a big thing. Those cheap yellow ones, they’ll do for a gig if you absolutely have to. But, you know, we’re professional musicians. You know, we should do better with this. They should be molded earplugs or they should be in-ear monitors that are molded to the ear, that sort of thing, because attenuation actually does work.
– You said 80 dB, but a live show is more like 110, 115.
– Yeah, so if we can just talk briefly about volume, I think this is an important thing to talk about. So a tip for musicians out there, I’d like to put some sort of practical tips out there for musicians, because it’s great to talk about the subject, but I actually want to offer some practical tools. So what I do, I have an Apple Watch. I was doing a session in London with some top guys, top session musicians, and we had this really great video guy who does a lot of videos for top software companies. And yeah, he’s one of the top guys. And I told him that I couldn’t be in the same room as the drums, because he wanted to film me in the same room with the drums, and I was like, «I’m sorry, dude, those days are over for me.» You know, I used to rehearse five nights a week back home in Birmingham in a room that’s about the same size as this room that we’re in now. So it’s about three meters wide and about five meters long, more or less. I mean, it was probably like those dimensions. So three meters wide, five meters long, very much like this room here. And they would be the loudest drummer I’ve ever worked with, acoustic drums, massive bass cabinet about the size of this wall, so quite high up, two guitar amps, and a PA. And we did that five nights a week. We were there for five hours a night, and we’d probably play for about three hours. So none of us would use earplugs, because we actually tried earplugs one time. We talked about it, and we had those yellow earplugs. And we felt that we couldn’t connect to the music because we had these earplugs in. Man, I wish to God I could go back and give that guy, that 22-year-old, a slap around the face and say, «Get those earplugs in,» because can you imagine five nights a week? And then gigging on the weekend, yeah? So we’re doing Friday and Saturday gigs. So Monday to Thursday, we were in the rehearsals, and it was incredibly loud. So I want to say that there are ways that we can get more information to help ourselves. So a little practical tip is, I have a Apple Watch on my wrist now, and I learnt it from this guy that we were doing this session with in London. He said, «Jack, come over here. «I wanna show you something.» He says, «You’re struggling with tinnitus, right?» He says, «This might be something that will interest you.» And he showed me this DB counter on his watch, and I was like, «Oh my God, you’re joking me. «You can have a DB counter on your Apple Watch?» And he said, «It’s amazing.» So I looked into this, and it turns out that the DB counters on the iPhones and on the Apple Watch is within one or two DB of 40,000-kroner professional sound monitoring equipment. They are very, very accurate. So the reason why I share that information is because the more information we have, the more empowered we are, ’cause we can know how loud loud is. So talking about 80 DB, well, this conversation that we’re having right now is probably about 65 DB. So 80 DB isn’t that loud, but concerts are about 110 to 120 DB, which is the sound of a siren. So imagine standing there listening to a siren for two hours. You wouldn’t do it, right? So getting an understanding of volume is really, really important because it can empower you. Say, for example, you’re mowing the lawn. I don’t know. Say, for example, you have to use a power saw or something like that. Those things are loud. And having an understanding of volume, I think, is part of the package for a musician, firstly, to protect their hearing, and secondly, to deal with tinnitus. So I would encourage any musician listening, get an understanding of volume. Look at those charts. They’re very easily available on the internet. Look at the charts. You’ll see that a room level, if we weren’t talking, that’s about 30 DB right there. Soon as I talk, it’s about 60 DB. But if we used to turn up those speakers there in the corner, and we used to have them at a reasonable volume, like a mixing volume that most mixers mix at, that would probably be between 80 to 85 DB. But here’s the thing. It’s not just volume. It’s length of time. So if we’re listening to 80 DB, it’s sort of the accepted volume that you can listen to, but you can only listen to it for eight hours a day. Now, you might say, «I’m not gonna listen to eight hours a day,» but people in factories have to listen to that for eight hours a day, or people in loud environments, in shops, for example. That’s probably about 80 DB, right? So you go above that. Every three DB you go up, it halves. So 85, you can only listen to four hours. I think it’s something like that. There’s a mathematical sort of equation that I’m not, I forget the exact equation, but it halves very quickly. So something like 120 DB, you can only listen to for a short amount of time. So it’s important for musicians to get an understanding of what they’re actually dealing with. I did a session with a guy not too long ago, and he sort of took a measurement of his practice, his rehearsal, and he couldn’t believe how loud it was. So getting an understanding of volume is an important part of a musician’s sort of setup, a musician’s defense towards hearing loss and tinnitus.
– Let’s talk a little bit more about the practical advice. What can I, as a musician or an artist, do to prevent myself to be exposed to tinnitus-inducing sounds?
– I think the first step that a musician has to internalize is the hardest step, and that is that louder does not mean better. As human beings, we like loud because it triggers the fight or flight mechanism, and it makes anything sound more exciting if it’s louder. And that’s one of the reasons why they went through the mastering wars in the early 2000s, where everyone was mastering their songs louder and louder and louder. It wasn’t because it was some sort of competition. It was because louder is perceived to be better. And the reason why this is an important step for a musician to take is because we can probably, realistically, we can probably take off one third of most of the volume that we use. So what do I mean? So in rehearsals, let’s take a sort of a step-by-step approach. In rehearsals, do you really need to rehearse as loud as you do? Can you rehearse quieter? Can you use earplugs or in-ear monitors? And you might say, «Well, I can’t connect to the music «if I use earplugs.» It’s about adapting. Adapting is a very, very big word in my vocabulary. Adapting and being proactive. If you are going through tinnitus or you’re starting the journey with tinnitus, or even if you have mild tinnitus, the concept of adapting will help you greatly. So can we take off some of the volume? Louder does not mean better. So mixing. I speak to mix engineers and they say that they can’t mix below 80 dB. Well, that’s actually quite loud. 80 dB or 85 dB, which is sort of the standard that mixers mix at, is actually quite taxing on the ear for a number of hours. So can you work at lower volumes? And again, it comes back to that word adapting. I mix at volumes that are very, very low. But I’ve had to adapt to that because I’ve had to take those steps because I don’t really have much choice. I have to do these things because otherwise I can’t work with the thing that I love doing, which is music. So understanding louder does not mean better. When you’re on stage, if you are in control of your sound and you don’t have a sound man, can you bring down 10 dB? Do you have to perform at 105 dB or 110 dB? Can you bring it down 10 or 15 dB? Louder does not mean better. It’s not gonna change the quality of your music. It’s not gonna change the quality of your mixing. And just to go back to mixing for a second, a lot of mixers say they can’t hear the tail end of reverbs unless it’s at a certain volume. And that’s absolutely true. They also can’t feel the bass. They can’t place the bass and understand if it’s in the right place. Again, that’s true. But how about you try working 70% of the time at lower volumes when you’re doing stuff like editing, all the boring stuff, ’cause mixing isn’t all rock and roll. It’s a lot of boring stuff. Editing, cleaning up tracks, all that sort of stuff. Why not try doing all that stuff at a much lower volume? And when you come towards the end of your mix, when you absolutely need to place those tails on the reverbs and you have to focus in on the bass, then you can crank it up a little bit more. So it’s all these sort of step-by-step things. And the first one is understanding, again, because it’s the hardest step to take, I feel I need to say this again, louder does not mean better. Just because you’re shouting at me doesn’t mean that what you’re saying is more important than someone that’s talking at a normal volume. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. So yes, that’s step number two, step number one. Step number two, earplugs. Of course, we’ve already spoken about this. Understanding earplugs, understanding what works for you, what you like, what fits well for you, understanding cost, how to store them. I have a pair on my car keys, I have a pair in my wallet. I keep them in a pouch so that they’re clean. I don’t wanna risk any ear infections ’cause that’s another problem. So understanding how to easily access earplugs when you need them. Don’t use them all the time ’cause you don’t wanna sort of get involved in that sort of mental game. But whenever you are in a situation where there’s music being played, playbacks, that sort of thing, you can pop them in. And understand that actually you’re being smart by using earplugs because those guys that swear that they don’t wanna use earplugs or that they can hear it better without earplugs, well, is it worth the risk, man? ‘Cause I’m telling you, it’s not. If I could go back to not having tinnitus, I would wear earplugs, no problem, man, because it’s not worth the risk. And if you’re serious about your music, which I’m sure you are, why would you take that risk, man? Even if you have tinnitus and you think, well, I’ve already got it, well, why would you risk it becoming worse? Because there are levels to tinnitus. I’ve gone through the levels. I feel like, you know, I feel like I’ve gone through the University of Tinnitus. I started off in first grade and now I’m at 10th grade. You know, there are levels to your tinnitus. So earplugs, understanding volume, understanding that you’re not alone. That’s a very, very big step because I think that the battle with tinnitus, half of it is mental, half of it is physical. When musicians get tinnitus, they feel very alone. They feel very scared and quite rightly so because it’s understandable that you would. I went through all these emotions when I first got it. But understanding that you’re not alone, understanding that there are so many musicians out there dealing with this, coping with this, struggling with this. And I speak to musicians every day. They contact me all the time. And they are well-known musicians, professional musicians, or even just sort of, you know, amateur, or if you want to call them amateur or hobbyist, whatever you want to call those guys that just do it, you know, once a week. I get contacted all the time. There are an astounding amount of musicians dealing with the very tinnitus that you might have or the very fear of hearing loss that you might have. So understanding that you’re not alone, I think is a big part of it because just having that knowledge and reducing the fear is an important part. And I want to share something with you. When I was, I think, I don’t know how old I was, 2016, 17th of November, 2016, I had a spike in my tinnitus that was just turned my world upside down. I tried to look for musicians with tinnitus. I couldn’t really find many. I found one guy on YouTube. He was talking about earplugs because he mentioned briefly in the video that he had tinnitus. And I was like, oh wow, there’s someone I can talk to. So I emailed him and he sort of didn’t want to get involved. He wasn’t that keen to talk about his tinnitus. But I found one article in a magazine about DJs because DJs have a problem with this because they have to wear headphones all the time. And it’s loud environments, that sort of thing. Three well-known DJs were talking about their tinnitus and it inspired me greatly. I was like, oh my God, if these guys can do it, I can do it. And I contacted all three of them. Two of them ignored me, but one of them got back to me. And he got back to me on Instagram and he sent me his telephone number. And he said, I just want to tell you that you’re going to be okay. And me seeing him on Instagram, night after night, touring the world, you know, in front of thousands of people knowing that he had really bad tinnitus, it inspired me. And it helped take away 50% of the fear because every time I’d get the fear, I’d think of him. And I’d see him night after night, post after post, doing gigs in front of thousands. And he really inspired me to sort of reduce the fear. And that’s why I think it’s important. Again, like I said to you before, it’s amazing that you guys, Grammarts, and any other musicians union that gets involved in this conversation, it really, really helps because musicians feel so scared and so alone. And I want to give you this analogy. I think this is a good analogy to give you. We, in the music industry, we are prone to hearing or acoustic trauma. They did a study here in Norway at the University of Tromsø, and they found they got 111 rock musicians of the medium age of 30. And they found that 37.8 of those musicians had hearing loss. To give you a visual idea of what that means, one in every three rock musicians at the age of 30 had hearing loss. Out of those 37.8% musicians, 20% had chronic tinnitus. Chronic tinnitus is determined as a constant tone. Whether it’s loud or quiet, it doesn’t matter. You have chronic tinnitus if it’s a constant tone. So 20%, so that’s one in five musicians had chronic tinnitus. Now, they said that none of those guys had severe tinnitus, but I think that the age matters ’cause it was 30 years old. I would suggest that as those musicians get older, they will, some of them, if not a lot of them, will experience worsening of their tinnitus. I know because that’s exactly what happened to me. Now, if we say that one in three musicians is prone to acoustic trauma, that’s a high percentage, in my opinion. That means there are a lot of musicians out there dealing with hearing loss, and a lot of them also dealing with chronic tinnitus. Let’s give an analogy of an athlete. Athletes are prone to injuries because they deal with their body, just like musicians do. When a football player, when he or she gets injured, the club supports them, the fans send them best wishes, they get sent to Germany for a knee operation, whatever, they get the full backing of the club, and they feel wanted and supported. When a musician gets injured, and remember, there’s a one in three chance of hearing loss, they feel scared, and there’s hardly anywhere for them to go to. There is hardly anyone willing to listen to them, to embrace them, to support them, and in fact, tinnitus is taboo in the music industry. Now, you might hear Sting, you might hear Eric Clapton talk about their tinnitus, but those guys are well-established. They don’t have a problem telling you they have tinnitus. 10,000 people are still gonna come and see their show. They don’t have a worry about that, but mid-career or up-and-coming musicians, I know because I speak to them, they feel concerned talking about their tinnitus. They’re not sure whether they should or whether they shouldn’t. They feel concerned sharing it to their band members, to their managers, to the record labels, because it’s almost like something nobody wants to talk about. That conversation has got to change, and that’s why it’s so important that organizations such as yourself are opening up this conversation, because a musician should not feel alone. We have a high probability, a one in three chance of getting hearing loss, and a one in five chance of getting life-changing chronic tinnitus. That’s a lot of people. There needs to be a conversation about this, an ongoing conversation. There should be, as far as I’m concerned, I’m extreme, of course, ’cause I live in this world, I think musical organizations should have contracts with audiologists so that their members can go to these audiologists and talk about it. I think there should be counseling. I think there should be agreements that are governmentally funded between musician unions and audiologists and tinnitus therapists, so that when a musician experiences this vast loneliness and isolation, they can reach out for help, just like we do with mental health. And they can talk to people, because talking and sharing is 50% of the problem reduced. But where we are now in 2023, this virtually doesn’t exist. Musicians are left to fend for themselves, and it’s a scary, lonely place. And I absolutely think that conversation has to change. We are evolving. We are sort of going so many great places with our mental health understanding. But our ears and tinnitus and musicians are getting left behind, and that conversation has to change.
– It’s a good thing that you’re changing it then.
– Well, yeah, hopefully part of the conversation, yeah.
– Yeah. We had a talk prior to this conversation, and you shared some very useful tips on how you should act when you’re at stage sound checking, et cetera. I think that would be interesting to just talk briefly about that, because some of those tips are very concrete and easy to do.
– Yeah, again, keeping it on the practical level, which I think is good, it’s a good idea. Sound check is your most vulnerable position, for obvious reasons. Things are getting plugged in, feedback, pops, clicks, all that sort of thing. You’re very, very vulnerable in a sound check. So a tip is to be aware of that. And what I do is I speak to the sound man. I go up to them before I go on stage, and I tell them, I’m honest with them. I say, «I have tinnitus. «I’m ready to rock. «I’m ready to do a great show, «but I have to be careful of my ears. «Could you please zero the monitors?» And they always have the same reply. They’re like, you know, they can’t understand that you want them to zero the monitors. And I say, «Just while I’m setting up, «can you please zero all the monitors on stage?» They do that. I still wear earplugs just in case, just in case there’s a monitor they forgot. I don’t wanna be bending down towards, you know, my bag or my guitar pedals or anything like that, and getting a feedback from one of those monitors. I can’t, I don’t have that luxury. So soundcheck is very much something to think about, something that you might not think about. You know, you might not think about, you know, as part of protecting your ears at that point. Backstage is another very, very loud area. When I was in my band Honeyman, backstage was always a party. There’d be lots of people, lots of drinking, shouting. The guy on the PA would be blasting some sort of grunge music to warm the crowd up. And, you know, like I say, drinking, everyone’s screaming, shouting. It was very, very loud. So consider backstage. Can you move away to a quieter area? Can you wear earplugs? Just sort of step-by-step practical things that you can do, and it’s all with the same goal, to reduce the taxation on your ears. Sound in your ears is translated through small capillary hairs, very, very tiny capillary hairs. They vibrate and they translate vibration into electrical impulses that your brain can understand. The impulses are what you’re understanding right now, listening to my voice. We wanna try and reduce the taxation on those capillary hairs, because if we keep loud volume hitting those capillary hairs, I did an interview with a top audiologist in the UK, and he said it’s like stamping on blades of grass. If you keep stamping on the same blades of grass, they eventually will struggle to repair themselves, and they will become damaged. And that leads to hearing loss. Hearing loss can, in some cases, lead to tinnitus. And what they think that is, is that some people have, I’m sort of veering away from the conversation, but I just wanna explain this really quickly, because some people have very good hearing, but they have tinnitus. I’m one of those people. I can hear stuff that other people can’t hear. Like, I’ll be in the living room saying to my girlfriend, «Can you not hear that noise?» And she’s like, «No.» And I can clearly hear it. So I have very good hearing. But what can happen a lot of the time is, especially with musicians, they can have fantastic hearing, but somehow they’ve trampled on those blades of grass at a specific point or a specific frequency. So we can get a slight dip at 4K or 2K, which is where the voice is, you know, if you’re mixing a record. And one of the theories of what tinnitus is when it’s from acoustic trauma is the brain notices that small dip in your hearing, and it amplifies that volume there. So the tone that you hear is actually the brain amplifying that frequency, because it notices that there is a dip in the hearing there. Sorry, sorry to veer away from there, but I just think it’s an important thing to do. So backstage, when you are performing, can you have an app on your phone that lets you know how loud it is on stage? Because when I perform and I’m in control of the sound, I have it about 90 dB, nine, nine, zero dB on stage. And I know that if I’m wearing minus 30 dB earplugs, that I’m more or less in the area of 60 something dB. And I can think to myself, okay, 60 dB is cool. I can be at 60 dB, no problem. And again, it’s part of the mental game. Reducing the stress and the anxiety is really, really important. Now, if you’re not in charge of the volume, if you have a sound guy, like I’ve done big gigs where I, you know, I’m obviously not in charge of the sound. Like I did Oslo Spectrum opening for Lionel Richie, and the sound guy’s like, you know, half a kilometer away, you know? So again, you’re interested in your sound on stage. You can’t control the sound going out, because obviously at the big gigs, if you’re playing, I played Norwegian Wood. I can’t control the sound going out into the festival, but I can ask them to control the sound on stage. So, you know, it’s about understanding that you can decide these things, having, especially if you’re a young band, have the courage to take control of the volume on your stage. And I say courage because a lot of younger bands, they don’t want, you know, they’re just happy to be there and do the gig. Remember, your hearing is forever. It’s more important. So have the courage to say to the sound guy, could we please have it a little bit quieter on stage? And I say that to the younger guys, ’cause I’m sure the older guys don’t need to be encouraged there, you know? I certainly don’t need to be encouraged. So those are some of the practical guides. If you are going to a show, of course, like you were mentioning, earplugs is a really big thing. And I just wanna say something about earplugs. And I think this is something that a lot of people think about. This is something that you and I have spoken about, Lasse. Do earplugs actually work? Do they say what they do on the tin? The understanding is, is that if you buy a good pair of molded earplugs and they are minus 15, or you have a filter that’s minus 15, or I have a cap, which is a plastic cap that does minus 30. If you have a well-made pair of silicone earplugs, you can say more or less that they probably are what they say they are on the tin. I can’t guarantee that minus 30 means minus 30, but it’s probably within five dB of that, if we talk realistically. So the way that it works is, if you’re at a gig and it’s 100 dB, 100 dB coming at you, and you know it’s 100 dB because you’ve been really smart, you’ve got your iPhone app, that’s free to download, by the way, and you know that it’s 100 dB around your area, around where your head is. So if you’ve got minus 30 dB earplugs, because you’re smart and you’ve invested in a pair, invested in two pairs, hopefully, but anyway, you’ve got your minus 30 dB earplugs in, you can basically say that what’s actually happening is that you’re blocking the sound going into your ears. And it’s no rocket science. It means that what’s hitting your ears is more or less 70-something dB, let’s say 75 dB. Let’s just say that your earplugs are, they say they’re minus 30, but they’re actually minus 25. So what’s hitting your ear is 75 dB. So you can sort of, again, this goes back to the importance of understanding volume, understanding earplugs, it helps us, it empowers us to take control. So that’s something to sort of bear in mind. You know, you can sort of know your earplugs, know your volume.
– Yeah. Okay, Jack, that’s great. I think it’s time to round off, but maybe you can say something uplifting to the people who are suffering from tinnitus or are afraid to suffer from tinnitus and how they can cope.
– Yeah, sure. So firstly, I wanna say thank you again. Thanks so much. I really appreciate that you give me this opportunity. Secondly, I wanna say that all the information that I shared earlier on in this podcast is not to create any anxiety or any worry. It’s to empower you because by being empowered, you can protect your ears and have a long, successful career. That’s really important to say that all those sort of small details are just there to be empowering because I think that’s very important. As far as uplifting goes, I wanna let musicians or mix engineers or anyone listening to this, I wanna let you know that there are many successful or career musicians that have dealt with this for a long, long time. And in fact, they dealt with it for many years when there wasn’t the facilities that we have now. So if you are worried about your hearing, if you are experiencing tinnitus, it does not mean the end of anything. It does not mean that you have to stop being a musician. It doesn’t mean that at all. What it might mean is that you have to empower yourself through knowledge, you have to be proactive, and it might mean that you have to adapt. Adapting is key because again, it helps you maintain your career, maintain your love for music. I also wanna let you know, like I mentioned before, there are so many musicians out there doing it who have the same problem. You are not alone because the feeling of loneliness is, it’s not cool. Also, something else that I wanna say is don’t get caught in the cycle of negativity. When musicians get tinnitus, they go online, they look for solutions. Perhaps they can’t find them. They go to the forums, and forums, people share their stories as they rightly should because they have the right to do that. But what can happen is, is that you can get stuck in the cycle of negativity. Try not to do that. Try to remember that there are solutions to this problem, that you are not alone. Hearing protection, hearing aids, if you are sort of struggling with your hearing loss, there are so many great solutions out there. There are great people who are sharing their story on YouTube, many, many great videos on there. It’s not as scary as it first seems. I have very, very bad tinnitus. I feel obliged to say that because I need to sort of put a frame around myself. I started off with mild tinnitus when I was 27, and it’s progressively got worse. That’s why it’s important for you guys to take action now. If you have mild severe, sorry, a mild chronic tinnitus, don’t be stupid like me. I did nothing. Don’t do that. Don’t make the mistake I made ’cause it’s a dumb ass mistake to make. Start taking protection seriously. Start getting involved with things that help you. That’s the first thing. But I made my best EP. I released my best EP two months ago. I’ve had to adapt. I’ve had to stop playing acoustic guitar and playing an unplugged electric guitar. I’ve had to mix at lower volumes. I have someone that checks my mixes just to make sure I’m not making any silly mistakes ’cause I don’t mix very loud. So I’ve had to adapt. But I made my best EP. Two months ago I released it, a month or something like that. The guys here at Tone Overload will be able to tell me. But it wasn’t very long ago. And it’s my best music. I’m 48. I have a lot of music in front of me, a lot of shows in front of me, and I feel determined about that. So you mustn’t feel like it’s the end of anything. But what you must do, all of you, I urge you, take it seriously, because it is serious. Protect your ears, work at lower volumes, be smart. All that work and effort you put into learning to be the great musician, the great mixer, the great live engineer that you are, don’t jeopardize that. Take a little bit of time to learn about this, protect your ears, and I wish you all the very, very best of luck. And I wish you a fantastically successful career in what you’re doing. But please, guys, take this seriously, protect your ears, you’re not alone. (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (upbeat music) (speaking in foreign language) (upbeat music) (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC PLAYING]