Music lovers and musicians of all genres can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In describing 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 people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to 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 somebody working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is normally 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 there have been many notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band 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 handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided 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 excessive noise volumes. 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 address 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 eventually was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 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. 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 by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending 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 that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.