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The decibel delima. Long rant, short gig.

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by rmkesler, Oct 24, 2010.

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  1. rmkesler


    May 6, 2009
    Winder, GA
    Mods, please move if this is in the wrong forum.

    One of the bands I work with had an outside gig last night. Kind of a neat little setup with a small bar and grill with a court yard, park benches, a small stage for karaoke, bands, and such. We’ve played there before so we were not expecting anything out of the ordinary.

    However, we get there and the guy that runs the place is saying that the city has a 70db sound level limit, the local police are going to come by with a decibel meter, and will fine him AND the band a ~$700.00 if we’re over the limit. We went over it and decided that we would start off with the lightest tunes we had and play them as low as we could until the police made their check. Once he was done and went about his business we would carry on as usual. Everyone was in agreement on this plan.

    We start off with Margaritaville played as low as we could go. I had the SVT-VR’s volume at 9 o’clock and could literally hear the strings buzzing under my fingers. We went into Mississippi Kid with the drummer singing lead and the lead singer runs to the bar to get a beer. The owner meets him there and tells him “Either turn it down or turn it the f@ck off”. He also goes on about not wanting to get fined, etc. The owner had a similar conversation with a friend of the band that helps us out and was wearing one of our T-shirts. The singer and friend returned, obviously agitated, and delivered the message. After much discussion it was decided we couldn’t get any quieter, and did not care for the ultimatum, nor how it was delivered. So, after two songs we pack up and make the hour drive home thus ending one of the shortest gigs I’ve ever played.

    The whole affair leaves me with a couple of questions. First, can anyone recommend a good decibel meter? I’ve been thinking this situation could have been avoided if we had accurate information to work with. Also the ordinance and fine seems suspect to me. Does anyone have any insight into the noise ordinances in your area?

    Perhaps the guy has been having trouble recently with the police enforcing this ordinance. I just wish he would have called us before we packed up and drove up there and let us know what was going on. We could have bowed out and given him the opportunity to book an acoustic act.
  2. Stinsok

    Stinsok Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2002
    Central Alabama
    70db would be tough. A drummer can do 120 no problem by himself.
  3. Radio Shack sells a decibel meter. Places with residential areas bordering bars with outdoor entertainment often have noise ordinances. People like to be able to sleep at night.

    I think the amps can actually go below 9 o'clock, also, though you risk blowing your speakers from underpowering them (just kidding about that part, amps really don't go below 9 o'clock... :))

    Just sayin... Anybody go out in the crowd and listen? Maybe was just 1 instrument (guitar? Buehler? )causing all the problem.

    Maybe the guys' been fined before, has no idea how loud it was, or the cops are hassling him and he's being overly cautious.

    Hard enough to pay a band without paying fines on top of the price of the band.

    Would you have been able to turn down more if the fine was coming out of your pay?

    Just amazes me that people would walk out of a paying gig because they didn't want to turn down any further than a certain line in the sand. I'd be quitting a band that did that, IMO highly unprofessional and immature.

  4. Too many bars do this. If you cant have a band without issues about the volume, DON'T BOOK A BAND!! That is so irritating, mostly because it's left up to the band to schlep all the gear for nothing. I hope you at least got some compensation for your trouble.
  5. They chose to quit and leave, rather than turn down and finish the night, they weren't kicked out. That's on them. They should get nothing.

  6. Classickbass


    Aug 15, 2010
    Kingston, TN
    More information needed. You did not mention in your post so I have to ask, did the owner pay you your full amount since he failed to tell you in advance about the decibel limit? Because a 2 song set with full pay doesn't seem so bad. Driving one hour to play a 2 song set with no pay is the pits.

    As for noise level, where I live as long as no one complains the police don't care. I have an outdoor pavilion within walking distance and there are concerts/events held there every 4th of July, Labor Day, etc and I can hear the band(s) at my house. Sounds to me like the police in that area are just overbearing control freaks.
  7. 30.87hertz


    Nov 12, 2009
    It would be interesting to measure the noise level of that place without you guys playing. I bet it is easily over 70 dB with everyone talking and traffic noise.
  8. scotch

    scotch It's not rocket science! Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2006
    Albany, NY USA
    Please see Profile for Endorsement disclosures
    Yeah, 70db is a joke. That;s the average human conversation level.

    Take a look at this chart. Either the club/bar owner is making the 70db thing up, or he's a moron for expecting a band to play at that level.


    For petes' sake, a lawnmower makes more noise! I'm calling 'shenanigans'!
  9. Classickbass


    Aug 15, 2010
    Kingston, TN
    Perhaps you did not read the original post, sir. The band was not told about the 70db limit until they got there that night to do the show. Had they known in advance they may have not taken the gig at all, changed to an all acoustic set, anything other than drive an hour to play 2 songs for an unprofessional and immature club owner.
  10. rmkesler


    May 6, 2009
    Winder, GA
    We were supposed to play from 6:00 to 10:00. No, we did not get paid nor did we ask to be.

    I went out as far as I could to see what the volume was like during the first song but did not have my wireless with me. It seemed fine to me but I had no way of knowing if we had gone over the 70db threshold.
  11. trkelley


    Nov 18, 2009
    Oregon USA
    i'd have rounded up my band, turned right around and left when informed of the 70db rule. Tell them to get some little girl poetwith an acoustic guitar, a Baby Taylor maybe..... OP: I agree with your actions. outta there. 70 db is unrealistic, it's quieter than a vacuum cleaner. They don't want a band.
  12. scotch

    scotch It's not rocket science! Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2006
    Albany, NY USA
    Please see Profile for Endorsement disclosures
    Pretty much if your drummer ever hid a side-stick, you did. 70db is a joke. I've had flatulence that is louder than 70db! :p
  13. Wasted Bassist

    Wasted Bassist

    Nov 11, 2008
    Fargo, ND
    70db? Sounds like ******** to me. Where I live that's 20 db lower than the acceptable noise from a car audio system at 25 ft from the vehicle.
  14. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    I've run up against this kind of dB-limit crap before. At an actual "rock club." Soundman stood there with a dB meter, kept telling us to turn down, literally to the point where a signal was barely coming through our amps.

    Our drummer was so pissed off that he played as loud as he possibly could to spite them. It looked like we were playing air guitar to his drum solo.

    A hilarious and short gig.
  15. So what? Boss tells you to turn down, you turn down. Its not like they were expected to play a bunch of songs they don't know. Your point would have some significance if they were a metal band booked in a disco club. All you have to do is turn down.... anybody can do it. You really think the band gets to decide how loud is loud? Newsflash, its the guy that owns the club and signs your paycheck. If he wants it unreasonably quiet, that's his choice. He has had bands before you, and will have them after you. Somehow, they manage....

    They didn't have to only play 2 songs. They chose to quit rather than turn down. If I had driven a long way to play, its pretty simple to turn the hell down and play rather than waste the trip. Next time put a "We don't play under 90 dB" in the contract... rofl

  16. Curious, what's your instrumentation, and what kinds of amps does the guitar player have? where is the stage relative to the bartenders?

    Lots of guitar players get 100w stacks and try to overdrive them to get "their" sound, its usually accomplished only at ear splitting volumes.

    Some bars have the stage pointing at the bar, across the short dimension of the room, making it very hard to hear drink orders.

    Is your drummer a basher? Can he hit light to play quiet, or is he the one driving up stage volume instead of the guitar? They're the 2 most likely culprits.

    Do you guys use earplugs? Do your ears ring when you get home after a gig/rehearsal? You may be a lot louder than you think. Compared to your stage volume, it usually sounds much quieter in the audience. That isn't the same thing as being "quiet" though.

    He may well have pulled the 70dB figure out of his butt, he'll let you know when its quiet enough.

  17. BrBss


    Jul 9, 2010
    Albuquerque NM
    An important thing to determine, I imagine, is WHERE the sound level has to be taken. You might could be at 100dB at the stage, but still be 70dB at the street. (These numbers pulled fro my, er, pocket, and are for illustrative purposes only.)
  18. dhomer

    dhomer Commercial User

    Apr 9, 2009
    Hickory Corners, MI
    Owner, Gigmaster Soundworks, Auth. greenboy designs builder, MI
    If the band could be heard over conversation, you were likely over the 70dB limit. The only way you could comply is to carry acoustic instruments, no drummer, and no PA. Place don't deserve live music IMO...
  19. Classickbass


    Aug 15, 2010
    Kingston, TN
    You need to get the word out to other musicians in the area so no one else falls into the same pitfall with this *ahem* gentleman. Any local musicians you know, tell them. Any local music store around, post a notice on the board. When this person can't book any talent and his sales drop because of it, he will have to rethink his approach to doing business in the real world. This is unprofessional, discourteous, and downright despicable what he did to your band. If the venue was right around the block, no biggie. But an hour drive is nothing to scoff at in my book. You should have, AT THE VERY LEAST, been reimbursed for your gas.
  20. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    A "70db" limit is somewhat meaningless without knowing what weighting is to be used. But in any case, as others have said already it's much too low for an venue to offer live music, or anything other than background music. Seeing that normal conversation is around 70dbA, even an acoustic singer/guitarist without amplification with likely hit peaks much higher than that.

    Noise in public is a tricky thing because most ordinances can be fairly vague, or strict, or both. This occurs because when someone who doesn't want to hear the noise does hear it they consider it a nuisance, and law enforcement acts to eliminate it.

    If I may offer some advice that would've avoided the situation you encountered. Put together an event contract that you can use with each venue you gig at. Stipulate all of the details of that show (time(s), compensation, equipment/technical considerations, etc.). You can also determine in advance that there are to be no noise ordinances associated with this venue, and stipulate that a show cancellation due to these limitations is the responsibility of the venue. At the very least this will give you leverage to get the venue to pay you.

    It wasn't your fault the venue booked a live band when they know full well about their noise limitations, your band should not have lost a payday because of that. It was in part because a lack of advance work on your part that this occurred, though.

    A one time consult with a knowledgeable lawyer in your state will net you a good contract that you can use for years to come, it's probably worth the investment.


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