Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about 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 may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from 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.
These results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, 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. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different approaches to deal with the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. 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 reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. 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 began 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 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 there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
From stages in 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 experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to fight 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.