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. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. 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 dealt with considerable hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. 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.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man eventually 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 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 battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she might not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she discloses 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.