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.”
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. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly 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 pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study found that levels louder than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is usually irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues result from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different approaches to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided 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 loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable 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 looked for ways to address 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 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.
Townshend and Van Halen are just 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 effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige experienced considerable hearing loss from five decades 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 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.