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 might not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians playing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
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. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Significant hearing loss due to 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.
Looking for a way to curtail the continued deterioration 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 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight 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.