Music lovers and musicians of all genres can certainly 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.”
While physical pain might not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different strategies to deal with the problem.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss due to excessive noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. 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 manufacture 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 resurrect 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 significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
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.