International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt 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 accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been lots of notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different strategies to deal with the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise proved to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent 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. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 in 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 five decades of performing. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to fight 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.