International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact 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.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is usually permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his 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 searched for ways to deal with 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. The sound-man ultimately 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 there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career may 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 dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses 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.