Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is usually irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different methods 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. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss due to excessive noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. That in-ear monitor 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 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 experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she might 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 revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.