International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. In describing 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 might not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are not surprising for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals 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 usually irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier 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 deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to manage the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss due to increased 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 deal with his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she might not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige experienced significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.