International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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 accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Hearing loss is a common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but individuals who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different approaches to deal with the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Considerable hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Searching for a way to reduce the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually 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 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. And while she might not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, 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.