World Hearing Day: Former Metallica guitar tech shares tips for preventing hearing loss as Sheffield music venue The Leadmill offers free earplugs to gig-goers

A Sheffield-based former guitar technician for Metallica has shared some tips and tricks to prevent hearing loss in time for World Hearing Day (Thursday, March 3).

Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 5:19 pm

On this annual event dedicated to raising awareness about how to prevent deafness and hearing loss, local venues in Sheffield have also shouted about measures they take to keep patrons safe.

As a former guitar technician for one of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands, Andy Battye, 59, Chapeltown, has some great stories to tell. But while he’s reserved in sharing anecdotes about life on the road, there’s one thing he’s keen to shout about - and that’s hearing loss.

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Drummer Lars Ulrich (L) and frontman James Hetfield of Metallica have both spoken out about their struggles with tinnitus. The band's former guitar technician, now based in Sheffield, has shared some tips and tricks for looking after your aural health. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Having spent so long on the road, Andy’s own hearing is down about 20 per cent in each ear, and this affects him day-to-day when it comes to watching TV as he can struggle to hear but thankfully working with custom in-ears has helped reduce the level of damage.

Others in the music industry aren’t so lucky - including Metallica’s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, who have both spoken out about their experiences with tinnitus; a disorienting condition characterised by ‘ringing’ or ‘buzzing’ in the ears that hasn’t come from an external source.

It’s not just music fans who are at risk of hearing loss

The former Metallica guitar technician is keen to highlight the ways that people expose themselves to unsafe sound levels in day-to-day life. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

While many people who regularly enjoy live music are well aware of the ringing that can occur in your ears the next day as a result of standing a little too close to the sound system at a gig, few people are aware of the extent to which they risk damaging their hearing on a day to day basis.

“Every time I get on a train or a bus, people have got earplugs in which generally aren’t high quality - sound coming from a phone itself is generally very poor quality, and usually pushing the frequencies that are more damaging to hearing. So there’s a huge problem, where people are not aware of how much damage they are doing,” says Andy.

While the Covid pandemic has removed the daily commute from many peoples’ lives, plenty of us still use low-quality headphones on a day-to-day basis, listening to music, podcasts and TikToks at levels that could have a long term impact on our health. It’s the exposure for so many hours a day that is the problem - arguably more so than for an occasional gig goer.

“People wouldn't think twice about going to the dentist or to an optician for an eyesight check. But people only really ever go to an audiologist when they have hearing problems and I think for a lot of people, that's almost too late,” says Andy.

Investing in a pair of decent quality noise-cancelling headphones is one way that people in Sheffield can look after their aural health. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The problem is that hearing damage is often irreparable, and by the time you notice symptoms, it may be too late.

How to protect your ears from hearing loss and tinnitus

Anyone who regularly uses headphones can take measures to protect their ears, by investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. This helps to reduce the levels you need to listen at, as you don’t have to compete with the sounds in the background.

You should also be ensuring that you abide by the ‘safe listening levels’ often installed in your device. “Just turn it down. Because that will make a big difference to how long you can listen safely for,” says Andy.

“If you're in a music venue or a club, stay away from the speakers,” adds Andy. “The closer you are to the speakers, the greater the risk of hearing damage.”

Those who go to gigs can wear earplugs to make sure that you are listening at safe levels.

There’s a certain stigma associated with wearing earplugs at live shows, but there needn’t be - taking such preventive measures could help you enjoy live music for longer.

Many venues often stock headphones behind the bar, which are available upon request - often for free.

A spokesperson for Sheffield venue The Leadmill said: “Earplugs available at all bars for every event. If customers ask then they can have some for free. We also have some professional EGGZ earplugs which we give to staff.”

Next time you’re out and about, listening to your favourite podcast or jamming to your favourite band at the barrier of a gig, stop and think. How long do you want to be able to enjoy yourself for?