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.”
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 common issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are almost 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 constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud 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 considerable hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. 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 reduce the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This allowed him to 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 started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Townshend and Van Halen are just 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 battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she might not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to combat her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.