International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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.”
While physical pain might not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another industry. 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 well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to manage the problem.
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. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss caused by 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major 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 difficulties.
But effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Fifty Years 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 getting in the way. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.