International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are about four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study found that levels louder than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually 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 deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss due to increased noise levels. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.