SXSW 2017: Friday afternoon’s focus on hearing health, with a bit of live music from Ciaran Lavery and The Sandinistas – 17th March 2017

By on Tuesday, 18th April 2017 at 2:00 pm

During one of our many treks through the Austin Convention Center earlier in the week, Mary and I had noticed that free hearing screenings were being offered to musicians and music professionals attending SXSW 2017. In Real Life, I’m currently back at university studying for my own clinical doctorate in Audiology, so I was naturally intrigued. After spending Friday morning at the BMI / AT&T Fiber Acoustic Brunch), I had a brief interval of down time, so I walked over to the Convention Center to take advantage of the service.

I arrived at Mezzanine Room 2 just as audiologists from Nashville-based charity Songs for Sound and Austin-based Estes Audiology were finishing their set up for the day, and the staff were kind enough to chat with me as they worked. They explained that Songs for Sound’s travelling Hear the Music Project had stopped in Austin for SXSW to provide music professionals attending the festival with free hearing exams and audiology consultations, while Estes Audiology had teamed with MusiCares, another non-profit music charity, to provide musicians with free custom-made ear protection. But their services weren’t only intended for showcasing artists. I’m not a practicing musician myself, but I qualified for an exam and ear moulds as a 5-year music journalist.

To begin the process, I had to fill out a quick form regarding my hearing health and occupational history, to confirm that I was eligible. Once that was finished, I had ear moulds made, which would be used to create my custom-fit earplugs. A thick, blue foam was squirted into each of my ears and allowed to harden. The mould was removed, and I was asked how much hearing protection I needed. I chose the moderate-level 17 dB attenuation, which is recommended for loud music concerts or club environments. My custom ear protectors are due to arrive by mail in just a couple of weeks, and as it turns out, I have extra motivation to use them.

After the ear mould fitting, I was administered a pure tone audiometry screening, using a touch pad and over-the-ear headphones. I was dismayed to learn that my hearing test result suggested a possible mild low frequency hearing loss. Songs for Sound audiologist Paul Shanley told me that this would be consistent with frequent exposure to loud music without hearing protection, and he encouraged me to wear earplugs when attending gigs. If you’ve read TGTF’s coverage of SXSW in the past, you might know that I’ve received this advice before. I’m typically loath to wear earplugs when listening to music, because I feel that they dampen the vibrant tone colors and subtle nuances in the sound, but this was a sobering reminder to protect both my hearing and my ability to enjoy live music.


After my hearing exam was complete, I met Mary at Latitude 30 for a brief stop at the Output Belfast day show, where she had gone to see electronic musician Ryan Vail. The Northern Irish showcase has become a bit of a tradition for us at TGTF, so I was a little sad that we didn’t have time to stay for the whole thing. But I couldn’t help pausing for a quick listen to the next artist on the bill, Ciaran Lavery, who once again commanded the room with only the raw, powerful sound of his singing voice.


I made sure to have my earplugs at the ready for our next stopover at Valhalla, where we caught Welsh punk rockers The Sandinistas. Mary had seen them the day before here at SXSW, but she was impressed enough that she thought I should hear them too. And indeed, their punk rock sound was massive inside the small, red-tinged Valhalla, despite their basic guitar, bass and drums set up. Even watching their set for Music Tastes Good felt like a high-impact aerobic workout: just the thing I needed to get re-energised for the remainder of the afternoon. We featured their debut single ‘Ready to Blow’ in our SXSW 2017 preview coverage of the Welsh acts showcasing this year in Austin, and you can check out a live session performance of its b-side ‘Down on the Street Today’ just below, courtesy of Studio Toy.

Mary and I spent the last part of Friday afternoon back at the Convention Center, where Mary took the time to have her own hearing screened and to get fitted for custom hearing protection. Her hearing exam results were squeaky clean, undoubtedly because she’s fastidious about wearing earplugs to gigs, but she still chose to take advantage of the customised ear moulds to help ensure that her hearing remains intact for many more years of music listening. Fellow live music lovers, take note!


On the subject of long music careers, our final appointment for Friday afternoon was at a panel session celebrating the 20th anniversary of a leading independent music label. You can read my summary of that panel session, ‘Bella Union at 20’, right back here. Stay tuned to TGTF for my coverage of Friday night at SXSW 2017 events, which will post later this week.

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[…] red light that does no favours to anyone’s looks. I didn’t have much of a prayer there shooting the Sandinistas or Laucan as part of the Sunday Best showcase there in […]

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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