Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. 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 deal with noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but musicians who play the loudest music 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 struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided 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 proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. 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 consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with 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 started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige experienced significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.