International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly 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 may not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as 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 signals to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can start to weaken with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent 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 used several different approaches to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked 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 manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced considerable hearing loss. 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.