Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced 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.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud 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 considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent 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 looked for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and later sold that company to a national 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 issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. 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 revive 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 more than 50 years. Paige suffered significant hearing loss from five decades 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 that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.