Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
As a matter of fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to struggle with 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.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to reduce the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing 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 encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat 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.