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 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 have a negative impact 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 nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced substantial hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to 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 manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.