Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt 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.”
Music has been known to have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study revealed that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind 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 there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
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 problems are the result of continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different approaches to deal with the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose 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. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued deterioration 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) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.