Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly 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 take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related 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 not surprising 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 to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different strategies to manage the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking 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 level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 difficulties.
But successfully battling 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 record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning 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 substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day 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.