Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly 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 might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is usually irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Searching for a way to reduce the continued 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 let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 encounter 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 effectively. And while she may 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 stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses 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.