Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has managed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct exposure to loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
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 earpiece. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 successfully combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses 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.