Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 may not come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than somebody working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as 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 found that levels above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
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 show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss due to increased noise levels. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 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 earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 experience noise-induced hearing issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she might not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.