International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. In describing the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study found that volumes above 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to deal with the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss as a result of 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 of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to reduce the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. 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. The sound-man ultimately 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 Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been relying 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.