Chill Kechil is our latest Les Paul Ambassador, helping to educate musicians and others about the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Here, the New Jersey-based DJ and composer describes how he has managed his hearing loss while building a career in the music industry.
I found out in high school through hearing tests that I had some high frequency hearing loss. This caused me to be very aware of protection at a relatively early age. I fortunately did not go to a lot of concerts and wore earplugs way before they became commonly used.
As I began DJing and producing music, I became aware of many technology tools that help both protect and aid me in producing music. The most common technology app is the dB (Decibel) Meter that I have on my iPhone. I also had custom earplugs made that I use when the sound in a venue is loud. When DJing, I use headphones that are best at “isolating” the sound in the headphones and reducing the outside sounds. This not only protects my hearing but also allows me to mix the next song in my headphones before playing them over the sound system to the audience. When DJs wear headphones, this is what they are usually doing—mixing the next song into the current one that is playing.
When composing and producing music, there are several applications that I’ve found helpful. The first is a volume limiter that I use on the output channel of the mix. This prevents the signal/sound from going too loud and becoming distorted, which could damage your hearing as well as the sound equipment.
The second is the use of a visual EQ (equalizer) monitor which allows you to “see” the frequencies of the sound being played. This indicates whether there is too much or too little sound in low to high frequencies, allowing me to mix the music better for a better listening experience. In particular, since my focus is on the high frequency areas, I use the visual EQ to monitor too much signal in that range. (There are many types of EQ tools available but I think many producers use visual monitors in one way or another.)
I also learned that, although human hearing technically ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz), most people don’t fully hear the entire range, and in the higher and lower frequencies they may only be able to sense that there is a sound being made. A common practice in producing is to use filters to cancel and smooth out sounds below the lower and higher ends of the frequency spectrum. This prevents signals in the lower frequencies from causing unnecessary vibrations or rumbles as well as preventing artificial, “fizzy” sounds at the high frequencies. The ear is most sensitive to sound from about 2,000 to 5,000 Hz, so this is where I try to focus on minimizing peaks in the sound levels.