Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt 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 accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but individuals who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
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 much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss caused by excessive noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke 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. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a major 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 effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she might not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat 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.