"Many of the best things in life come from learning to appreciate nuance...Or maybe it’s the other way around: we learn to recognize nuance through spending countless hours where our passions already lie. In either case, my passion has always been sound – and specifically music."
The early days
As a middle-schooler (and in large part thanks to my mom’s progressive music tastes) I discovered the vast and diverse world of “music they don’t teach during piano lessons”. Music like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Black Sabbath and countless others.
Music that moved me to my bones.
It was in recording music that I found a place to let my passion burn hot.
Recording sound. Layering it. Creating soundscapes that I could never play alone. Having something to keep. To share. To come back to. I loved all of it. I spent countless hours reading, watching, testing, trying, failing and coming back again and again.
In those early days I attended lots concerts. I even played some shows with my friends. I hadn’t yet gained an appreciation for my hearing. For its fragility. Though I’m ashamed of it now, I often didn’t wear ear plugs in those days. The ringing would go away. Ear plugs didn’t look cool. No one else was wearing them, etc…
The ability to listen and to hear
While continuing to hone my audio skills, I worked as a mechanical engineer – often in loud industrial environments. Fortunately, by the time I was working, hearing conservation was on my radar and I wore ear plugs regularly.
In many ways I feel fortunate that I was able to come fully to my senses with nothing worse than mild tinnitus.
As I got deeper and deeper into recording, stuff I was making started to sound decent – occasionally even good. In 2015 I started Calm Frog Recording and did something I never thought I’d be able to do; accept money in return for mixing and producing original music.
As I started to spend more and more hours per week working on music, I realized that audio engineering was simply about knowing how to take what you’re hearing and convert it into what you want to hear.
In other words, it was listening and hearing that were the key. Tools are arbitrary. Techniques can always be found on YouTube.
The ability to listen and to hear are the really valuable bits. The bits that can only be won through thousands of hours. No substitutes.
Once this occurred to me, my hearing became my most prized possession – to be protected at nearly all costs.
I started carrying ear plugs everywhere I went.
I started plugging my ears with my fingers in situations where I couldn’t get to the ear plugs fast enough – unworried by the strange looks I would get. I also started noticing that certain situations and certain sounds would irritate me to no end.
In a loud bar, I would want to crawl into a corner and make myself disappear. But, even more subtly, the sounds of a phone conversation emanating from a small cell phone’s speaker made my shoulders tense up. The sound of two stainless steel pots clanging against each other in the kitchen would cause me to wince and clench my jaw. Walking on a busy street would set me on edge.
I thought I was mostly alone. Certainly none of my family members or close friends seemed to understand where I was coming from.
One day I saw an ad for Calmer. The Flare Audio product claimed to be able to reduce the harshness of many of my triggers.
To be honest, my first instinct was skepticism but for some reason I let the short, one minute video of Flare cofounder Davies Roberts play out. Being a mechanical engineer, I was intrigued by the wave guide principle. So much so that I reached out to the company where I was again surprised to be greeted with not only a willingness to discuss the products on my podcast (DIY Recording Guys) but also to receive some samples of Calmer.
I tried Calmer in many of my triggering situations to find that they do, indeed, help significantly. Like with a good cup of coffee, the effect seems subtle at first but soon becomes night and day. For example, I found that wearing Calmer in an environment for a period of 10-15 minutes and then removing them is where the difference is immediately seen.
I know my particular sensitivity is right around 4 kHz and I can hear that frequency range accentuated unnaturally out of a Bluetooth speaker when I remove Calmer.
I always keep a pair in my pocket these days and feel a pang of nervousness when I find myself without them.
I wear them while talking to someone on speaker phone. While walking on a busy street. While doing dishes in the kitchen. While hanging out with friends who seem to think that a cell phone connected into a guitar amplifier is a suitable system for playing music at a party.
To this day I don’t know how much of my sensitivities are a product of my (occasionally unhealthy) obsession with protecting my hearing from further damage and how much of it is from the thousands of hours spent concentrating on the nature of sound and becoming attuned to its nuances.
Regardless, music is my passion. Hearing is what enables me to interact with it. Flare Audio is making the tools that I need to protect it – and my sanity.
Producer and Mix Engineer