International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Townshend and Van Halen are only two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.