Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “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 the musicians performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but individuals who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who deals 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 problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been an issue 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Searching for a way to curtail the ongoing degeneration 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) volume. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But successfully combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. 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 revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige experienced considerable hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to combat her hearing loss and insists 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.