International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound 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 more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has managed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss due to increased 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 earpiece. 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 started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Townshend and Van Halen are just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But effectively fighting 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 revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists 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.