Everyone at Able Magazine was saddened to hear the news that Sir George Martin has died aged 90. After an illustrious career in music, Sir George promoted ideas to encourage people to take better care of their hearing.
By Tom Jamison
In August 2012, I had the privilege of interviewing Sir George Martin for Able Magazine. After years sat in the recording studio with headphones on his hearing was all but destroyed and so we opted to exchange emails. Nevertheless, he was clearly still up on the technology – both in music and on hearing loss solutions.
The interview is re-produced here in full:
In a career spanning 60 years, legendary record producer, Sir George Martin has chalked up 30 number one singles in the UK and a further 23 in the USA. Renowned for his work with diverse artists including Cilla Black, The Goons, Elton John and of course, The Beatles, Martin now finds that his hearing is deteriorating. He’s backing a new campaign designed to raise awareness and get people to look after their hearing.
The numbers of people that are at risk of developing a hearing disorder are incredible – one in six. Why are more people not aware of the risks (to this aspect of their health) as they are of say, smoking or poor diet?
Smoking of course can be fatal, so understandably people are more aware of those dangers, but there’s not enough publicity on the dangers of hearing damage. Loud music is an obvious culprit but volume alone in short bursts isn’t too bad, duration is the key. One can withstand a very noisy jet plane taking-off if it only lasts a few seconds, but on the other hand a moderately loud sound, if it’s sustained for a long period without a break, will cause damage.
Is the advice simply to turn down the volume?
Turn down the volume certainly and give your ears a rest regularly, but don’t stop listening! Music can and does give people untold pleasure, but if you abuse your ears, you may find that someday you’ll be unable to hear the things that you take for granted today.
It seems that the MP3 device has a lot to do with this issue. Should devices be limited to the volume they can generate by law perhaps?
The MP3 file compresses the sound which reduces quality anyway, but I’m sure digital files will sound better with time. It’s difficult to limit volume by law, but it’s a question of awareness when people use these things. Persuading manufacturers to issue a simple health warning on their hardware would be a good first step.
When did you first notice your own hearing loss?
I first noticed a loss of certain high frequency sounds in the mid 1970’s. Thankfully, it never impeded my career until around about 2005 when suddenly my hearing took a nose-dive. Now I’m profoundly deaf.
Did you take it seriously or did you attempt to ignore it?
Of course I took it seriously, I sought advice right away.
Do you recall an especially loud recording session or gig that you were producing?
No nothing specific. In my case, as well as many others, there wasn’t one incident it was more the case of general volume over time that did the damage – in the recording studio you can be deafened by a string quartet as well as a rock band. It’s a question of just turning it down, but I think that most amplified concerts are too loud anyway.
There’s so much detail in the music that you’ve produced. Famously, there are lots of layers and sound effects, especially on tracks like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by The Beatles. It must be incredibly frustrating not to be able to pick out the nuances anymore. How do you deal with that?
I have to accept the fact that I will never recover my hearing. It’s tough and I wish someone had told me in the 1960’s how to preserve my hearing, but no-one ever did. That’s why I’m so keen to let people know that losing your hearing is not great fun, but there is something you can do about it before it’s too late.
Can you tell me about your involvement with the Bionic Ear Show? How did you get involved?
As an avid supporter of Deafness Research UK, I want to be able to support their initiatives that help prevent hearing loss in the first place, as well as all the other ground-braking work that their research scientists are undertaking. The Bionic Ear Show is an excellent way to educate people, especially the younger generation, about the delicate nature of their ears and how best to prevent them losing their hearing.