Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll 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.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. 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 struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem 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, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Searching for a way to reduce the continued 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) 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 problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to combat her hearing loss and asserts 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.