Music lovers and musicians of all genres 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 may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-related 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 regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study found that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different strategies to deal with the problem.
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 loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Looking for a way to curtail the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively battling 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 revive her career with a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 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.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight 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.