Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of 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 most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud 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 dealt with considerable hearing loss as a result of excessive noise volumes. The drummer revealed 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 in-ear monitor. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related 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 might 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 revive her career.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.