Medical Mysteries of Music

Don’t protect your hearing against loud music? This could be the ultimate cautionary tale

If you don’t think you need to protect your ears from overly loud music at concerts or through headphones, give some thought to what happened to George Martin.

Sir George will forever be remembered as the producer who brought the best out out the Beatles. He was renown for his ears and his ability to hear the tiniest nuances in a performance and a recording. Sometimes, he’d get right between the big speakers in Studio 2 at Abbey Road so he could hear exactly what the Beatles were playing. In the 70s, he worked guitarist Jeff Beck, another guy who believed in volume. Sir George would be right on the floor with Beck and his mountains of amplifiers.

Sometimes around 1977 when he was in his 50s, Martin was calibrating some tape machines with some high-frequency tones. He saw that the needles on the machines were moving, but he couldn’t hear a thing. Cycling the tones lower until he could hear something, he soon realized that he was going deaf.

For a record producer, this was the worst possible handicap. How could he continue to work if he couldn’t hear much of the music? This had to be kept a secret. No one outside his family

In the early 80s, he brought in his teenage son Giles. For the rest of Martin’s career, Giles worked as his–for lack of a better term–hearing-ear dog. Giles’ job was to listen to the high-end frequencies and relay to his father what he was hearing. Here’s an example of the tag-team production work father and son did in the early 80s.

Martin’s hearing continued to deteriorate for the rest of his life, robbing him of his ability to enjoy, feel and create music. Meanwhile, Giles transformed these experiences into a full-blown career as a producer and the spiritual successor to his father when it came to working with the Beatles.

Be careful with loud music. If the man who made the Beatles were here, he’d tell you the same thing.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37816 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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