International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might 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.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are not surprising for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been countless popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud 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 of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a major 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 effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive 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 suffered considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight 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.