International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly 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 accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose 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 due to increased noise levels. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect 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 substantial 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 insists 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.