Microtia — Music To My Ear (Little Ear)
Hi, I was born in 1983 with left side Microtia but only discovered the medical name in 2014 after catching a Channel Four medical programme, Embarrassing Bodies, that featured Sally Evans and her Microtia condition. Thanks to a quick Google search, I then discovered an entirely new world, furthering my understanding about myself and my little ear.
I am a Singer Songwriter/Producer and have been a full timer in the music industry since I was eighteen. Music has always been a huge part of my life; at the age of seven, I picked up a guitar and copied riffs and tunes from my Dad and Mum, who both played of an evening. Before then, I was rather good on the tennis racket, pretending. From the age of thirteen, I began to teach myself more on the guitar and also had a few lessons in School, where I learnt the boring but important theory stuff.
Work & Education
I worked in a music shop from the age of fifteen and learnt a great deal about the retail side along with meeting Pete Green from Fleetwood Mac and we even had Chris Martins’ amp from Coldplay in for a repair once. Although, it would have been cooler to have had Chris in the shop. This was a great ten year experience, where I met so many musicians, learnt more guitar techniques and even formed a few bands. I worked here as I completed my GCSE’s and then went on to study a BTEC National Diploma in Popular Music followed by half an HND in Music. I left the HND course at the end of the second year, as it was not right for me.
Having left college and now armed with a newly purchased Lagoon Green acoustic guitar, I entered into the world of being a solo artist. Even though I was in and out of bands, I wrote with a production team for globally recognised artists, learning a massive part of my production skills too. This is where I experienced the sensation of stereo for the first time.
First Stereo Experience
Sitting on a stool in a vocal room with a pair of headphones on, I was recording a version of one of my own songs and the Producer panned a twinkle effect hard left and automated it to move hard right. The sensation of the sound moved across the back of my neck and it was the oddest feeling ever. Excited about the edit, I asked what the hell was going on. The producer explained and my mind was blown!
This explained why when I would listen to music as a kid on headphones, I couldn’t always make out the full mix of instruments or I would miss hear a lyric. I never really paid much attention or got frustrated, as I had more fun making up my own words. For example, Nirvana have a song called Plateau and I have always thought that the lyric went “Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop and a little iddy book about birds”. Yup, it makes sense right. But the actual lyric is “and an illustrated book about birds”. I have only just found out the correct lyric. So, lesson learnt, read the lyrics in the CD book.
I now make more of a conscious effort to listen to the diction of a singer as it saves a lot of time and I also listen to music on speakers rather than headphones. I use headphones to record and sometimes to mix. In general conversations I combine lip reading and even recognise the tone of some words or phrases. I am not deaf in my fully developed ear, I think, just selective. But aren’t we all at times.
What Is Stereo?
Discovering the effect of stereo spurred me to research what stereo is and how it works from a music and everyday view point. Imagine a straight line and you are in the middle of that line with the line coming out of the side of your head. Now, draw an arch from one end of the line to the other. You now have a 180 degree area in front of you where sound will affect you and reach your ears. From a music production point this is so important for understanding how to mix effectively. From an everyday view point, it helps you to become more aware of your surroundings- don’t forget you will have another 180 degrees behind you. Now imagine a circle of sound in the real world that surrounds you that you have to be aware of. Amazing!!
Volumes & Sound
Now, I’ve never been much of a singer but I had to learn when I became a solo artist. Not that I couldn’t sing, I just didn’t understand how that instrument worked. Lots of breathing exercises, techniques, flares, trills, allsorts. One of the most common things you see a singer doing to help with pitch, is put a finger in their ear. I said ear, not rear. I could already hear my voice in my head, so pitching was a doddle. Just needed to strengthen my angelic vocal chords and that meant practise.
I remember as a kid, I was told to stop shouting. I think it was because I was getting used to volumes or just understanding how to communicate in a reasonable way. Also, I do notice that as I can hear my own voice in my head I am very quietly spoken. Understanding how to project my voice has helped in many social situations. From a music angle, loud and soft are key elements in creating the dynamics of a song and I can always remember being at a noisy gig with a pint in one hand and a finger in my ear. The advantages are great!
I do highly recommend an ear plug for any concert you go to. Or even if you are on a clubby night out. That means you can hold two pints. But seriously, there is nothing worse than ear fatigue and a hi pitch whistle ruining the drive home listening to Beethoven’s 5th or Bohemian Rhapsody. Ear plugs are a great investment too as they come in pairs and last twice as long for us Microtians.
What I’ve Learnt (So Far)
One thing discovering more about Microtia has taught me is that I now understand why I would feel tired after being in a noisy environment. It has made me more aware of allowing for a time out period to give my developed ear a chance to recoup. Between five to ten minutes after no more than an hour of relatively loud sound, music, background noise. This has been awesome for studio work as I have now found an optimum volume that feels good, sounds good and is not too taxing on the fragile ear hairs and drum.
I have never seen my little ear as a disadvantage for my music, creativity or social interaction. In fact, it gives me an advantage over those who struggle with pitch, I can easily switch off when people talk nonsense and it has enabled me to focus on individual sounds in great detail.
Sound is amazing, the way it reflects, bounces, softens and makes us feel can change our lives in an instant. If I had been taught about what sound is on a much deeper level at a younger age, then I would probably have listened more in school but hey, school serves its purpose. I was bullied, but for having long hair and that made me a hippy. I liked that. Being a hippy that is, peace ‘n love, rock ‘n roll. Suited me fine. I think there was only one occasion where I showed the silly bully, who in their defence were non the wiser, my little ear. Saying, ‘That’s why I have long hair’. I never saw him again. Think it scared him off.
My little ear is my OAP insurance. By that I mean, once I have rocked out and my developed ear has decided to not play anymore, science and technology in Microtia would have hopefully developed ten fold and more to be able to give my little ear the chance to listen to the world.
I love who I am, you can’t please everyone. That’s up to them to decide if they want to understand. Cool either way. I am in fact proud to put a name to my little ear. “MICROTIA”!! I have some amazing information to share about my little ear and so far, everyone who I have spoken to about it have all been ok with it. The hardest thing about the music industry is finding your USP (Unique Selling Point). You may think that it is all glitz, glamour, music ability, chiselled features or a pair of hot pants but I think having Microtia has given me a different edge on where I am coming from. I hear half the sound of a ‘normal’ artist which makes what I do even more amazing. (Trumpet blown)
So, if I could offer one piece of advice to fellow Microtians, parents with a child who has Microtia, relatives and friends. Get out there and live each day, ask if you do not understand and don’t be afraid to be you. We are after all, unique in every way.