International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “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.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. 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 noise above 110 dB. This damage is generally permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. 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 repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided 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 turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Significant hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted 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 difficulties.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she might not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.