International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly 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.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any style 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 lots of 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 legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose 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 much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss caused by increased noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Looking for a way to curtail the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless 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 effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.