"It's all about your attitude to tinnitus"

Credit: Rasa Urnieziute 

Credit: Rasa Urnieziute 

The life of an agent finds you in the club or at a festival for most weekends of the year and this seriously takes its toll on your ears, as Sam Markham from KLS Bookings found out last year.

Having moved from Bristol, Sam now lives in Berlin and has done so for the past five years. Besides from being an agent for KLS, who work with the likes of Luca Luzano, Skatebård and Johannes Albert, he DJs regularly and co-runs the label Planet Sundae. With a career devoted to music, when Sam discovered he had tinnitus last year he decided to do something about it. Now, he wears earplugs at any given opportunity, and doesn’t stop talking about it in the office!

As he’s a keen advocate for hearing protection, we had a chat with Sam about his tinnitus story. Read what advice he has for you below, and check out his label here.

Hey Sam, how are you?

Good thanks, trying to mentally prepare myself for the Berlin winter and a lack of festivals/open air parties.

How long have you had tinnitus?

I am not actually sure, it snuck up on me. I’d say on and off random noise in my ear started about two and a half years ago and I can’t say the day it happened; but one day, maybe almost a year ago now, I realised the random noise just wasn’t going away.

You have lived in Berlin for a while now, but used to live in Bristol. Do you feel there’s any difference in tinnitus awareness between the two musical hubs?

To be honest I don’t think it is great in either city. The party scene feels younger in Bristol, so generally speaking less people seem to have it or care about it - give them time :)

As an agent, spending the majority of your weekends at clubs and festivals, what effect does your working life have on your tinnitus?

Not a great effect really. The sound is constant but only noticeable if I’m in a quiet place or have headphones on, but if it has been a particularly hard weekend it can take days for it to get down to a casual level.

It can also be a bit stressful knowing every time you're out you are potentially adding to a lot of tough times down the road, as it can get worse. This being said, I have the good old pro earplugs & the difference between a busy weekend with or without them is massive now. Before, it was pretty worrying as it would take days to get quieter and sleeping was hard.

It can make you more careful about the clubs you want to go to too; generally speaking, the worse the system, the worse the ears are the next day. I also now have to actively decide to take a week, or even weeks-long breaks if it starts getting really bad.

As a regular DJ yourself in Berlin, do you also advise your roster on wearing earplugs when they DJ?

I recommend wearing earplugs to everyone really, I don’t think I could continue enjoying my social and work life without them. Once the tinnitus started getting serious it started getting worse and worse pretty quickly, but since I started using pro earplugs it has balanced out and is actually better in places.

Really I wish someone had pointed out to me years ago that earplugs suck for the first five minutes, then your brain gets used to it - you just gotta stick with it. This being said, no matter how good the earplugs are I have noticed that you will always lose the subtle sounds/responses of the crowd. Those highs are pretty much always wiped out and it’s only once they are gone do you realise how special that can be to a good sounding set… unless it’s a particularly punishing sound system where you can never hear any background sounds!

There are many documented methods about how to cope with the condition - what’s the best way for you?

Obviously I am a big fan of the earplugs for actively dealing with it and stopping it worsening, but beyond that I do not do much. Mainly because in my research on tinnitus it became clear that the best way of coping with it is your attitude. As long as you’re positive about it and choose to not perceive it as a big deal then it’s very liveable.

Ultimately there is no physical harm done to you so it is all about your psychological response to it. I feel if I made a big deal trying to find all these coping mechanisms and solutions then I would be promoting the thought that it was something seriously wrong that I needed to fix. The sound may get to me sometimes when I’m trying to sleep but I try to go with it.

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone in the scene to prevent them from getting tinnitus?

Obviously wear earplugs, and if you know a club that has a system with a lot of nasty highs coming out then as much fun as the place may be - just avoid it man!