By Jon Perring – co-owner, The Tote Hotel and Bar Open

 

Under the COVID heath restrictions, many venues are looking to move live music gigs outside because venues can host larger audiences outside than inside. However, this poses the problem of, how do you approach the sound reinforcement of the band without creating tensions with your residential neighbours.

There are many technical solutions such as the JBN sound ceiling or setting up cardioid sub-arrays (gradient array loudspeaker). The latter can be set up with existing speakers and a flexible Loudspeaker management controller unit.

However, a lot can be achieved by approaching the task practically and pragmatically especially for a small audience, of under 50 which is the current capacity limit in Melbourne.

First, consider the outside venue site. Don’t point speakers at your neighbours. Point them away from residences, especially any habitable spaces. If you can position physically solid barriers in the sound transmission path, do so. This can help attenuate the sound.

It’s important to ensure that instrument amplifiers are sized to the audience size so a 20 Watt amp is ideal for guitar and keys. Bass amps typically are larger and care is need with bass as it’s the usual culprit in terms of noise complaints. Bass under 100Hz is not directional and can penetrate through lightweight walls into your neighbour’s habitable rooms.

The first consideration is to balance the volume of the amplified instruments to the loudest acoustic instrument. This is usually the drum kit. Set the levels of the guitar amp and keyboard amp so they sit together nicely. Then add the bass. None of these instruments needs to go through the PA to be heard for a small gig.

Now mic up the acoustic instruments through the PA that require amplification and balance them accordingly. Typically, this will be the vocals and maybe some other acoustic instruments. If the band has trumpets, they don’t need to be in PA.

In terms of a PA, you can get away with 2 self-powered full-range boxes, a 31 band equaliser and a small mixing desk preferable with inbuild reverb. Some self-powered PA speaker have a low cut switch, if so, use it. Don’t use a sub with the PA.

With such a simple setup, the band can self-mix. The PA speakers, if positioned to cover the band, can double as foldback. As long as the microphones (Dynamic cardioid type mics such as SM 58s) are not pointed directly at the speakers and are at least 45 degrees off-axis, feedback can be easily managed.

We have done thousands of gigs successfully using this configuration in the front bars of both The Tote and Bar Open. It’s no panacea but the idea of finding the balance between the acoustic instruments and the amplified instruments is a practical way of facilitating the mix discussion between the musicians and the venue. Agreeing on sound levels is half the battle.

Ultimately, in Victoria, we have to adhere to the State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP N2). There is no getting around this.

If you are licensed premises, that’s no louder than LA90 + 5 dB(A) before 11 pm (10 pm operating longer than 5 hours), measured outside the nearest resident where LA90 is A-weighted sound pressure level that is exceeded for 90 per cent of the time interval considered.

If that is nonsense to you, the best way to check is to go have a listen. If you think it’s unreasonable, it probably is, so go back to your setup and make adjustments.

Finally, talk to your neighbours. The best protection against noise complaints is dialogue. Chances are, they like music too.

Resources:

SEPP-N2

DIY Cardioid Sub tips