Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 may not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Many musicians learn 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 as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has used several different methods to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking 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. That earpiece 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 started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with 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-related hearing loss.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. 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 set 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 significant hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, 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.