International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In describing 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 enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, because 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 opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss caused by increased noise levels. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national 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 issues.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English 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 significant hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
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 for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.