International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt 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 come with the music enjoyed 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 contribute to hearing loss.
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. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented 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 earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame 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 over 50 years. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.