Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “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 individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce 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, according to one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, 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. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set 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 over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears 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.