Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about 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 may not accompany 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.
In fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study found that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is normally permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. 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 started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from 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 may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered significant hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige revealed that she has been depending 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.