Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study revealed that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing 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.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues result from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different strategies to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing 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 caused by increased noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This let him 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 started manufacturing 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 difficulties.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and insists 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.