Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about 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 accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. 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 levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to deal with the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided 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. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
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 began manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned 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 achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.