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.”
While physical pain may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced 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 no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss caused by excessive noise volumes. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
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 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 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 issues.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she discloses 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.