International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding 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 received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved 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 experienced substantial hearing loss due to excessive noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. 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 Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But effectively combating 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 record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, 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.