International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In describing 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 received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
As a matter of fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are almost four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. The noise proved to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
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 let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he started to manufacture 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 successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition 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 over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.