International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary 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 problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with significant hearing loss due to increased noise levels. The drummer documented 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 curtail the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. 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 eventually was so successful with this prototype that he began to produce 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 difficulties.
But successfully 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 resurrect 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 experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, 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.