International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly 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.”
While physical pain might not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is usually permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of excessive noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he began to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling 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 suffered substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.