International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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 come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
In fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience 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 are not surprising. One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Looking for a way to reduce the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. 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 producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. 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 with a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
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.