International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. In describing 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 have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced 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 known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study found that volumes above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has managed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many 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 effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced significant hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day 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.