International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In describing 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 come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to manage the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to 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. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying 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 music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.