Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly 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.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are about four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another industry. 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 levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And there have been many notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from 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 shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Significant hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. 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 let him 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 started producing 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 combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 resurrect her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced considerable hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts 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.