Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any type 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 impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different approaches to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose 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 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss caused by increased noise levels. 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 deal with his worsening hearing loss. 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 began producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.