Music lovers and musicians of every genre 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 might not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Hearing loss is a common issue 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-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is normally permanent.
Any style 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, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the problem.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud 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 considerable hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. 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 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. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and later 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 experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat 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.