You’re Too Loud! Keeping Your Sanity When Playing Restaurants and Small Clubs

Restaurants and small bars make great venues for duos and small bands to play. For financial as well as practical reasons, these places are too small for larger groups, yet they still want to have live music to attract the crowds.

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However, you must always remember that YOU are not the primary purpose of the restaurant or bar. The primary purpose, as for any business, is to make money.

As a performer, you should be able to relate to this, since you need to make money as well. (If you are just doing it for the music, while a great noble and artistic attitude, you’re better off just jamming at home.)

Your purpose, as far as the club is concerned, is to bring in customers – and keep them there. Remember that at all times, even though it can mean swallowing your pride.

You do need to have artistic integrity, but you also need to recognize where your needs conflict with the needs of the paycheck writer.

There is probably no musician alive who can hear the words “you’re too loud” without jumping into a defensive attitude. It doesn’t help that it always seems to happen just when you’ve hit that “sweet spot” where you feel like everything is working together perfectly. Bam! “Turn it down!”

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There are two areas to this problem that you will have to deal with: Mental Solutions and Physical Solutions.

Mental Solutions

First of all, remember again that one of the reasons you have been hired to play is to keep customers from leaving. If you really are too loud, turn it down. Don’t let your ego sour your attitude.

Still, you always need to be aware that someone may ask you to turn it down at any time, and don’t take it personally. (I know, this is easier to say than to do.)

The fact is, no matter where you play, you can’t please everyone. There will always be those who think you are too loud and those that want you to crank it up. You can’t play to the extremes. You need to find the level that is right for the majority of the customers, even when that seems too low for you.

Physical Solutions

Sometimes it just isn’t physically possible to crank it up to the sound level that will make you happy and still keep the customers happy. When that’s the case, you need to get creative.

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If your volume is so low you can’t hear yourself over the chatter, you’ll never play your best. So you need to find ways to play louder for yourself and quieter for the audience.

Here are a few solutions that work in difficult situations:

  • Run everything direct to the mixer so that instrument amplifiers don’t overpower the room. (Good luck if you have drums!)
  • Use small monitors as close to you as possible, for instance on a mike stand.
  • Use no house speakers (or minimal, for clarity). Let the stage mix be the house sound as well.
  • Use no stage monitors at all, using in-ear monitor systems or headphones. Then the house speakers can be adjusted to the level that is comfortable for audience.

Every situation is different, so these solutions are not the definitive answer. Look at the problem from both the club’s perspective and from yours, then use your head to find a workable approach.

You just may well may remain sane enough to play your heart out!

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