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.”
While physical pain might not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-induced 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 well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but individuals who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing 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.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to 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 experience noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. 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 in London’s West End. Paige suffered considerable hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to fight 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.