A Sound Education

Audiologist-turned-educator/podcaster Steve Taddei ‘13 credits his experiences at Columbia for launching his career and his calling.

Audio engineers not only understand sound, they value it. “It’s the magical thing that we audio engineers can’t live without,” says alum Steve Taddei ‘13. So, it’s no surprise, that protecting the ability to experience sound is a high priority for many Audio Arts and Acoustics (AAA) students. And that some, like Taddei, pursue careers dedicated to promoting hearing health awareness and supporting those with hearing loss.  

Today, Taddei teaches higher-ed courses as an adjunct professor at Rock Valley College, Emerson College, and Northern Illinois University in a variety of areas within audio engineering and hearing sciences. He also produces, writes, and hosts a podcast devoted to helping those with untreated hearing loss. Receiving a degree in audio design and production from Columbia and later earning his doctorate in audiology, he understands the intersection of the creative and scientific aspects of sound. His in-depth knowledge of how sound can be manipulated and the physiology of hearing places him in the perfect position to teach and advocate for safer ways to experience sound and to create awareness around technologies that make sound more accessible for his podcast listeners. 

Taddei finds this work critical considering the ongoing risks to hearing health. “I think right now we're seeing the incidence of hearing losses skyrocketing. And we're seeing this across the board. People are destroying their hearing without necessarily knowing it with things like earbuds and headphones,” he says. “Even sitting in a studio, listening to drum kits, and mixing music all day can have negative impact.” 

Sound exposure is like sun exposure, Taddei explains. “If you go out in the sun, it's not like you get cancer. What happens is a chronic condition of damaging your skin through UV exposure again and again. And over a lifetime, you can see serious damage to your skin. And it's like that with our hearing system.” 

Decreasing exposure to loud sound, and the sun, has major health benefits, Taddei says. And just as sunscreen can reduce health risks, so can protective earplugs.   

While passionate about educating his students and listeners today, Taddei wasn’t as excited about his own education when he completed high school.  

“I didn't want to go to college at all, honestly,” he recalls. “So, Columbia and entering its Audio Arts and Acoustics department helped kind of unlock that education can be fun. I really do think it has directed everything that I am today.” 

Taddei, though, initially majored in game design even though music was his jam at the time. “I was already in music; I had bands. And I was learning the art of being an audio engineer outside of Columbia.”  

After meeting now-retired AAA professor Benj Kanters, Taddei realized he could transfer that outside-the-classroom interest in recording to inside the classroom as an AAA student. And it was Kanters who eventually inspired him to pursue a career in hearing sciences. “I found myself extremely interested and passionate on those topics because the hearing mechanism is so advanced.” 

Kanters proved to be a role model for Taddei, and he hopes to be the same for his students. “I hope my students see my passion about sound, acoustics, audio engineering, and hearing sciences, and whether they're passionate about it or not, they see an educator who loves what they're doing in their life, and then hopefully that fuels them to carve out a passion in their life that they will find rewarding.”