Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about 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 might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those performing it. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study revealed that volumes louder than 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 irreversible.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And there have been countless popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has managed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. 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 eventually 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.
Townshend and Van Halen are only 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 effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a set of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts 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.