International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are almost four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another field. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to send signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. The drummer documented 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 searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man began producing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Townshend and Van Halen are only two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered considerable hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
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 that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.