International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly 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 come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is generally permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to deal with the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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.
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 problems.
But effectively battling 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.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.