International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
As a matter of fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are about four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who struggles 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 issues. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different strategies to manage 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 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to reduce the ongoing deterioration 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with 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 there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s international 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 stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.