International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly 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.”
While physical pain may not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to struggle with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study found that levels above 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues are a result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss because of exposure to increased noise levels. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to curtail continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. 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 soundman started producing them commercially and later 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 encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to successfully fight her own bout with hearing loss. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theatre dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. Just recently, Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for the last two years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theatre fans in the U.K.