Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly 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 may not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those playing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians according to 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 volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but musicians who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different methods to manage the problem.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 issues.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. 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.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced considerable hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.