Another entry in our new category The Bottom Line, The Bottom Line – featuring anecdotes and musings from Bill Cinque, seasoned music industry vet and author of The Amazing Adventures of a Marginally Successful Musician, available now in our Online Store…
Ah, volume, my pet peeve. I have never seen a more divisive issue than volume. Every band is too loud. Every musician thinks it’s the other guy’s fault. The guitar player starts explaining that his amp is only 65 watts. The singer needs more monitor because she can’t hear herself over the drums. Terms such as room frequency and standing wave are tossed around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. When anyone from the audience suggests turning down, they are hammered with the “you just don’t understand” speech.
I’m not a real technical guy. I’m certainly no acoustician. I do maintain that if something is too loud, the remedy is to turn down the volume. You can say that to a plumber, an accountant and a bus driver without getting an argument. For some reason, asking a musician to turn down is immediately construed as an insult and therefore met with great resistance. There is no clear reason for this behavior. You want people to enjoy your music. They want to enjoy it. They can’t because the PA is so loud it blew off their eyebrows. The band has to understand that they have the wherewithal to make the situation better. It’s called a “volume knob.” In many cases, turning it to the left will often lower the volume, thus solving the problem.
If the band has the answer, why is there such a problem?
Why ask why? It doesn’t matter. I won’t generalize. Each musician is unique. It wouldn’t be productive to analyze this. Not many would own up to being too loud. Too many bands are too loud most of the time. If you want proof of this, don’t ask musicians. Ask the waitress who can’t hear her patrons. Ask the customers who refuse to sit at the first 3 tables. Ask the club owner who loses money when customers walk out. They know it’s too loud.
Let common sense dictate in this situation. If the band is playing loud enough to be heard from the back of a crowded room, how do think it feels to be standing up front? It’s usually not a good idea to try to reach the back of the room. Some people are back there because they don’t want to hear so much of the music. They may want to talk or socialize. Don’t be offended. They won’t stay there all night. When they’re ready to dance or listen, they’ll follow the bread crumbs and find their way back to you.
Here’s a good rule of thumb. You play to the dance floor. The band should sound big and full half way down the room. The bodies (the audience) will soak up a lot of sound. Many small clubs are acoustically challenging. It can be difficult getting a great sound. Get the best sound possible, but not at the expense of the paying customers.
If you remember one thing from this book, make it this: Volume is the number one reason for being fired. It is your responsibility to play the room. That means you have to be a pro. You have to allow for the small venue. You have to consider the patrons. It is not the customer’s job to make allowances for the band. If you’re too loud, you’re wrong.
Any band will play a little louder when the energy is up. That’s expected. There is a point of diminishing returns. Louder doesn’t necessarily mean better. You want to reach the audience, not chase them away. Do you want to sound great to no one? It’s like the old adage. If a tree fall in the forest… let’s hope it hits the soundman. Do the right thing. Make the adjustment before you lose the gig.