International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt 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 take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss caused by excessive noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man began producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major 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 difficulties.
But successfully combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she might not have Clapton’s international 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. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.