International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant 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 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. One study revealed that levels above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is usually permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to manage the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Significant hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually 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 encounter noise-induced hearing issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. And while she might 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 resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige shared 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 that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.