International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study found that levels higher than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any kind 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 many notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different strategies to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided 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 turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by 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 curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully 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 may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige experienced substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses 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.