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 take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than somebody working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally 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-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used several different approaches to deal with the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began producing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 bout with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight 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.