International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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.”
While physical pain may not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with significant hearing loss as a result of excessive noise volumes. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to manage 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 eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, 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 suffered substantial hearing loss. 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.