Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
In fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
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 handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted 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 decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Significant hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer revealed 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 searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to 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 national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.