Having played in live bands for so long I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve had comments about the bands volume level. Some people complain that the band’s too loud. Some people complain that the band’s too quiet. I’ve even had cases when there have been people commenting both ways right after one another at the very same gig!
Here’s a funny story for you. One night we were playing a gig at a local Elks Lodge. There was an incredibly diverse range of ages and people there that night. An older lady came up and complained that the band was too loud. We turned down just a little bit and a younger girl came up and demanded we turn the band up louder! We told this girl “The lady over there complained that we were too loud, so we turned down.” Immediately the younger girl marched over to the older lady and got right in her face saying that the older lady wasn’t the lodge manager and that the band was way too quiet. It turned into a full scale fight and somebody had to actually separate these two women!
My point is, the volume level of the band is extremely subjective and if you ask 5 people in the room how they like the volume level of the band, you’ll get a very mixed reaction. Some will say the band’s too loud, some will say too quiet and some will say just right.
One thing that I’ve found to be very true is that the people who think the band is too loud will complain the loudest. That’s why the most common volume complaints you’ll get are of the “you’re too loud” variety. So what can you do when people are complaining about your volume level?
The first thing you can do is to get out and ask multiple people in the room how they feel about the volume level. If everyone is saying you’re too loud, then you probably are. If more people are saying just right or they don’t have an opinion then your volume level is probably fine. If the majority of the people are saying “crank it up!” then by all means, turn up.
Another thing to remember is that the manager of the club or venue is the final word when it comes to volume levels. I played a gig one night where the entire audience was saying “turn it up, turn it up!” but the manager said we were playing too loudly. We had to turn our volume to a level that was acceptable to the club manager in order to keep playing and get paid.
Most club managers have a reason for telling you to play at a certain volume. Sometimes it’s because they have a neighbor that complains about the noise and threatens to call the police on the club. Sometimes there’s a local noise ordinance that the club must obey. That’s why you will always be safe following what the manager of the club says is the right volume level for the band.
One of the very best things you can do is to talk to the club manager before the band starts playing and let them know you want to play at a volume level that’s best for their club. Ask them to let you know if you need to turn up or down. Then check with them a couple more times throughout the night by asking, “How’s the volume level?”. You’ll score big points with the club manager every time you do this because you’re showing them you care about their club and the comfort of the clientele.
These are some basic suggestions that you can use when dealing with complaints about your band’s volume level. Make sure you give them a try and you’ll increase your chances of return bookings everywhere you play.