Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding 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. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to 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 in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to manage the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Significant hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented 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 reduce the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume 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 Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered 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.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling 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 depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears 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.