International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 may not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
These 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 deliver messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. As reported by 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 consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man eventually 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 Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to revive her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.