International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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 accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
In fact, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another field. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, 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. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used 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 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 volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address 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 manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair 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 considerable 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 being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.