Music lovers and musicians of every genre 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is normally permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has used several different methods to deal with the problem.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition 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 chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by 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, 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. 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 subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and later 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 encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
From stages in 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 suffered significant hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.