If you’ve ever been to a Motörhead concert you know what it means to be assaulted with so much sound you feel like you may very well die. And chances are you’ve played a show before where you were asked to turn down so low that it felt like you might as well be playing a retirement home. Finding that sweet spot where everyone is getting really into it without requiring ear plugs or running for the door is the goal of every musician. So how loud is too loud?
Most rock concerts fall in the 130db range, which is the point where you will get permanent hearing damage after 30 minutes. This can vary from concert to concert and your location to the sound system but nowadays even country concerts can get up to 130db near the stage. In that range you reach the maximum volume that is really enjoyable and get near the threshold of what is considered painful.
This brings us to another topic, how much are those sound waves dispersing over distance? Say that big old JCM 800 is right behind you and you are just a couple feet in front of it, and the sound pressure level where you are standing is 95db. Those audience members six feet in front of you dancing to your rendition of “Fortunate Son” would be getting a respectable 82db of sound pressure.
One way to determine if you’re too loud is to make sure you aren’t crossing the threshold of human pain which is generally in that 130db range. Another final consideration: have you ever noticed when you start listening to an album it’s loud and you are really into it but after a while you end up cranking the volume up more to get the same effect? This phenomena is called sensory adaption, so you might consider keeping an extra notch for the final encore.
And let’s not forget, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a knock on the door from the local friendly sheriff’s department. The same can happen when playing a gig and the sound exceeds 80-95 decibels from the point of measurement (which is usually right in front of the club, not in front of your amp.) You’ll find that the accepted levels drop way off after around 10pm for most cities (usually to around 60db).
How loud do you play? Do you tend to crank it up and not worry, or are you more methodological on finding the right volume for the gig?