International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt 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.”
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 continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to struggle with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
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 60 percent in his left.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s international 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 in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to combat 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.