International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues result from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different strategies to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect 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 loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. 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 curtail the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 experience noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to fight 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.