Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “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 might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most 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.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his 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 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. 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to experience noise-induced hearing issues.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. 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 that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.