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How loud is too loud

I'd swear I already posted this ... but I can't find it anywhere
I have a gig coming up fairly soon - a very loud 3-piece punk band. They played at an outdoor festival I did this fall. At that show I had no guitar in the mains - a finger stuck in one ear - the other ear turned away from the stage/speakers. The other hand was on the mixer, or both ears would have been corked. I just tried to balance everything else to the guitar amp.

The upcoming gig will be indoors at a college student union. I have an SPL meter, and I'm not afraid to use it. My question ... where do I draw the line and ask them to turn down the guitar amp. How loud too loud? I don't want the dB police knocking on my door the next day.

FWIW, earplugs will be available - but it seems silly to expect folks to wear earplugs in order to listen to the band.

Maybe I'm just getting to old for stuff like this - should I stick with guitar-strumming folk singers?

I suppose a question about how to monitor this sort of stuff for mixing might be in order too. I have an in-ear/ear-muff combo that provides great isolation - I use it when setting up for recording. I'm wondering about feeding that with a flat omni so I can control my listening level. OTOH - if everyone else will be wearing cheap foam earplugs, maybe I should wear the same thing so I know what they're hearing.


Pro Audio Guest Tue, 03/07/2006 - 11:46
When I do punk music, I make sure to have an SM57 available to throw at the guitarist if he is extremely reluctant to turn his amp down to a reasonable volume. I was in a hard rock band here for a while, and I never wanted to turn down until I mixed my first rock show. And yes, in my first show, I threw a 57 at the guitarist (and hit him...) and that seemed to convince him to turn his amp down and adjust it so that I could get a decent tone to work with. (It also convinced me that 57's are indestructible... that was a 50 foot throw...)

Anyway, I usually shoot for 98-103dB with 110-115 peaks (usually due to drummers and their volume wars with described guitarists). Its a small room, so not much control with volume wars. If you can convince the guy that it will sound better if he's not balls to the wall and let you use a mic on his amp, you will have accomplished an incredible feat - the feat of overpowering a guitarist's ego.

Good luck with this group. Guitarists are hard to break.

BTW, after having to throw that 57 and hit the guitarist, I felt obliged to apologize, not to the guitarist, but to every FOH mixer that had tried to convince me that less is more.

Also, use GOOD ear plugs. Don't use the foam. Use plugs like HEAROS (those are what I use). They are fairly level in their attenuation for ear plugs. I don't wear them for soundcheck or the first song, but after that, my ears are plugged. I already have slight tinnitus (its not constant, just every now and then, usually when its dead quiet though and my ears haven't been stimulated) from playing guitar loud, and I don't want to make it any worse.

Ear plugs are ear savers.

pr0gr4m Tue, 03/07/2006 - 12:43
One of the bands I work with has a bass player who likes to bring as many cabinets and as many amps as possible to every show. Often times, me or the FOH guy will just turn down the bass completely because his stage volume it just way too loud. The problem with this is it makes it real hard to get the right balance.

So, I had a long talk with him about music and sound and explained to him that his stage volume was having a major affect on the way the rest of the band a bad way. He agreed to turn it down "for the sake of the music".

Anyway, you might want to try and approach him like that to try and get him to turn it down a bit. If he says that the quieter it is, the crappier his sound is, tell him to try getting a power soak or something like that. So he can fully drive his head but have the actual volume be much more quiet.

IIRs Tue, 03/07/2006 - 12:47
IMO a gig should be loud enough to get the punters up and dancing, but quiet enough to allow me to mix FOH all night without earplugs, with no hint of deafness at the end of the night.. but this can be difficult to acheive in small venues when one particular instrument is too loud on stage: diplomacy might work with a guitar player, but a loud snare drum is harder to deal with!

In my experience very few punters wear earplugs, even if they are being given out free at the venue.. so if I'm wearing some how do I know when it gets too loud? I don't trust my cheapo spl meter, and anyway I watch the stage when I'm mixing FOH (I usually have to mix monitors from the same board)

But I firmly believe that if the mix is good, it doesn't need to be painfully loud to be powerful.. in fact, some rooms have a volume limit: I remember very clearly my first gig as house engineer for a local venue a few years back; I soundchecked everything seperately very LOUD because we were expecting a full house and I wanted to make sure I had the headroom. It all sounded great seperately with very little work (good band!) but when they launched into something together it was the most godawful henious racket! I had a slight crisis of confidence as I was very aware of the promoter and the band's management frowning in my direction.. but then I pulled the master faders down 4-5 dB and suddenly the sound cleaned up almost like magic, and there were smiles all round again! Later on that night when the venue filled up I got the masters back up to unity again, and it still sounded fine, but the room simply couldn't handle it without the bodies to soak it all up.

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 03/10/2006 - 12:35
Two schools of thought. One band I work for is the loudest band in the world... literally the world record holders. THe record is 129.5dB @ 90 feet. The loudest show I did with them was 126dB @ 90 feet.

A typical show that is tolerable should land around 100-105 dB @ 50-70 feet. People who don't worry about their ears at shows are pretty stupid though. Hearing conservation should be a priority.


sheet Wed, 03/08/2006 - 17:37
robertmetal wrote: i remember reading somewhere that a loud rock concert (or punk in your case)should be around the 100 to 110 db mark but no louder.

There is no standard. 110dB measured where? What if the mix position was the only specification? What if the mix position was just off stage one day and 200' away the next? 110dB at 200' is pretty slammin for some shows, but maybe not for punk.

Anything abov 85dB causes the ear, brain and body to mask the sound. So, it is whatever produces the desired result. If you want your people feeling assaulted, play loud. If you want the dynamics and nuance to shine through, don't compress so much, let the music breath and keep the average a bit lower.

Most concerts are no longer than two hours around here. So, 110dB-A falls under the exposure regs set by OSHA. Thats A weighted, so you know it is going to be 3-5dB louder than that with all of the bottom end factored in.

saemskin Wed, 03/08/2006 - 20:33
OSHA guidelines taken from May 2004 EM mag article:
level (db's) - allowable daily duration (hours)
90 - 8
92 - 6
95 - 4
97 - 3
100 - 2
102 - 1.5
105 - 1
110 - 0.5
115 - 0.25 or less

OSHA guidelines on ergonomics are usually pretty reasonable in the sense they will help you from hurting yourself on repetetive tasks, but not strictly applicable on occaisonal tasks