International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “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 individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. 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 considerable hearing loss due to increased noise levels. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
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. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began 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 effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to combat 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.