Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In describing 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 people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than somebody working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is usually permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few 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 standing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud 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 due to excessive noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Searching for a way to reduce the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame 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, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.