International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians playing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type 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 are inherently loud. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud 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 dealt with considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he started 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 only 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 discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career with a set of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she reveals 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.