International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly 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 accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study found that levels above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is normally 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 there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in a few 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. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved 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 dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 only two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
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 might not have Clapton’s international name recognition 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 dazzling audiences for more than 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.