International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different strategies to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise levels. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen consulted 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 level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man began producing them commercially and later sold that company to a national 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 experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. 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 revive her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling 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 considerable hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and asserts 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.