How loud is too loud?


How loud is too loud? What is the ideal volume? Every gigging musician has struggled with trying to achieve the ideal volume. Trying to reach that level at which you are more than mere background noise but not so loud as to get the dreaded thumbs down from the venue manager. Often times as a musician you have competing interests with the venue. Perhaps you are trying to promote your music and they are trying to promote Taco Tuesday and turn tables over as frequently as possible. Unless you are playing a listening venue where people have come specifically to hear you, there are going to be varying opinions as to the ideal volume. I realize that there are many aspects to a powerful performance, but make no mistake there is power in volume, up to a point. Many times I have had a crowd really into the music and been asked to turn down only to see the energy drained from the room. The danger of course is that being too loud is actually worse than not being loud enough so there is a fine line to navigate.

It is important to understand that I have a reputation for being loud which should be taken into consideration before adhering to advice from me. That being said, I have been successfully gigging for many many years (I am old). One of the main reasons for a healthy volume level is dynamics. If you are barely being heard when singing and playing all out, then the nuances in your playing and singing will be lost. Lack of dynamics makes a performance boring. I rarely touch the volume knob (even when I am told to). Generally if I get complaints about volume it is after a driving fast song or a powerful ballad. I then tend to simply ease up and back away from the mic a bit. I can bring the volume down 10db without touching the volume on the mixer.

The room or venue plays a large part in the ideal volume and can be hard to judge on stage. I tend to watch people for cues during a song. If you can hear people talking while you are singing, you are not loud enough. If people are talking effortlessly then you are not loud enough. If people have to lean in a bit but can still talk without yelling, it is probably about right. If people have to lean across the table or talk in each other’s ear, you are too loud. 

Another aspect of volume is speaker placement. I like to ideally have any speakers other than bass dumps at least seven feet in the air, never ever at ear level. Volume will vary with the size of the crowd. A perfect volume in a half filled room will not be loud enough when the room fills up and too loud as it empties out. Finally, you may just decide some venues aren’t worth the sacrifice if you can’t play at a volume that showcases your talent and allows you to sound your best. There is no disgrace in that. All that being said, Volume and dynamics require practice just like learning the guitar and vocal licks. Good luck and crank it up. Or turn that shit down. Whichever applies.