Keep on moving – Tiffany’s story
March 16, 2024

Lessons from EDM: Maclain’s story

Maclain Drake

Actor, DJ and accidental entrepreneur Maclain Drake grew up with reverse slope hearing loss and a love of music, which he could enjoy only up to a point. One night, a friend introduced him to electronic dance music (EDM) – and the heavy, pulsating basslines pulled him close and never let go. Maclain has since been making EDM and working to help others, in the hearing loss community and beyond, find new ways of experiencing music.  

In a profile written just over two years ago, Maclain made his passion for accessibility and accommodation clear. He recently spoke with Team Phonak about why he continues to be a trusted voice across different communities, even if it was not a role he sought out. His story has been edited for length and clarity.


Building it up

I think the reason I first connected with EDM was that I could take out my hearing aids and just feel the bass – and it was my first experience with music that was accommodating to my hearing loss. Growing up, I loved rock music but couldn’t go to concerts because they were too loud. Because my low-end frequencies are gone, I would have to take out my hearing aids but then couldn’t hear the person singing and felt like I was missing too much. If I kept my hearing aids in for guitar solos and things I really appreciated, it would be too loud if the audio guy didn’t make adjustments.

Before EDM, I didn’t really think about accommodation and trying to open up the experience to as many people possible. Obviously turning up the sound would hurt people’s hearing, and the point wasn’t to destroy other people’s hearing in the pursuit of making me or someone else happy! With EDM, even before becoming a DJ myself, I started working with others to put on more accessible shows for the hearing loss community. We experimented with technology to create smells, visual walls, lights and vibrations. The goal was to help people who couldn’t hear the music somehow connect with it and get a sense of what the artist was trying to do.

At first, I was only going to do one show and then go back to my normal life. But I was told that nobody else was doing these kinds of things – and it kind of spiraled out of control, though in a good way. Through my company, I’ve partnered with a lot of festivals and venues, like the Megaplex Theatres here in Utah, and not only to support the hard of hearing and deaf communities.   


Breaking it down

We live in a world where people don’t know a lot about disabilities and accommodation. Ultimately, I think accessibility is about protecting certain groups of people while making an experience more enjoyable for everyone. Take, for example, a headphone system you could use at concerts. Many people know there’s a lot of sound you shouldn’t be hearing, and ear plugs help. But if you use a low-frequency system or even an induction loop, with customized headphones, you can adjust the volume and get clear audio – which, I think, is what you want after spending so much money to see your favorite artist. In effect, you can focus on the music while protecting your hearing. This is why I’ve always been a proponent of having people try out the accommodation, whether they have hearing loss or not, because then a lot of people get it.

You know, I’ve grown up with hearing loss and know I’ll be this way for the rest of my life. I’ve come to terms with it, but in my advisory work I come across people who have hearing loss later in life, and it can be really hard. A lot of them wish they had been more aware of the options because music does affect our hearing, even if nobody likes to talk about it. Also, a lot of my close friends make music professionally and like talking to me about hearing loss because as artists, they wouldn’t know what to do if they lost their hearing. And a lot of them wish there were a healthier way to help their fans be more proactive – so they’re especially supportive of my work as a DJ because it’s good for everyone. Sure, a DJ with hearing loss sounds like a gimmick, but the gimmick is actually solving an issue that needs to be solved. 


Dropping old beliefs

If things keep going the way they are, I think there will be a more fluid conversation around accommodation in general. A lot of people used to get upset if they went to the movies and saw words on the screen. But since the way we consume content at home has changed, people now say, why wouldn’t I use captions? That right there is accommodation – and why I’m trying to solve problems, especially if others aren’t taking up the reins. I love trying out technologies that have never been used in the concert space and working with tech people to make it happen. And I love giving and getting feedback because I think that if you stop learning, you’re dead in your tracks.

At the end of the day, I’m just trying to utilize my different platforms to figure out how to have an impact on the most people, and in the most unique way possible. There are so many different communities, just like there are so many subgenres of music. The artists I really respect are the ones who take risks and are uniquely themselves. It’s what I’m trying to do whether I’m making music or working with others – be as genuine as I can and not do things by the book, just to keep things interesting.

Growing up, I didn’t talk a lot about my hearing loss even though it really affected me. For modeling and acting jobs, I didn’t want to mention my hearing aids in case it cost me the job. When I first started all this, I didn’t like being the face for hearing loss. I wanted to get back to doing musicals rather than have to talk about it with the community. And I think because I didn’t always want to be in the spotlight, people wanted me in the spotlight! But it has led to so many interesting things – and the fact I’m comfortable enough now to love talking about my hearing loss is something I’m really proud of.

Maclain wears/uses Phonak Audéo Paradise

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