Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem 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, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 difficulties.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found 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.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.