International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In describing the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain may not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced 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.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked 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 started manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered considerable hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears 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 good news to theater fans in the U.K.