Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly 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.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly 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 prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss as a result of excessive noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Searching 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. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately 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 experience noise-induced hearing issues.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.