International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding 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 enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-related 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 not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally permanent.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they are inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, 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 continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
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 experience noise-induced hearing issues.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.
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