Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels above 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to deal with the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise volumes. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Looking for a way to reduce the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Townshend and Van Halen are just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing issues.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she might not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige experienced substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.