International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following in regards to 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 people enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study found that volumes louder than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all styles of music, but individuals who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, 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. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to deal with the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Significant hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man began producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.