International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In describing 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 come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. 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 methods to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Looking for a way to curtail 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 producing them commercially and later 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 problems.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.