Sound levels at Events

Saturday 11/2, birthday party

The DJ’s sound at this event was so loud and harsh that I couldn’t even stay in the building. This was well beyond the threshold of pain, by far the loudest indoor sound level in my experience. And I’m a sound guy!

I was worried about the dozen or so little kids, including at least 3 babies, and 3 or 4 toddlers. The adults could leave, and many did, but the kids had no choice.

My SPL meter only goes to 125 dbA. It maxed out when I measured the sound level at this party. The rule of thumb is that for every 5 decibels the noise level increases above 85 (8 safe hours), the safe listening time decreases by half. So, if you’re listening at 90 decibels, you can only listen for four hours. This dj played over 125 db for 6 hours (Safe listening time = about 1.5 minutes).

I blame my own cowardice / wimpiness for not shutting down this dj. The best I could do was alert the guest, but this did not work. The sound stayed super loud.

One of the party organizers asked me “Are we good?” about halfway through the party. I told him about the harm caused by the high sound levels—— that it could cause hearing loss, especially in kids. “It is what it is” he said.

Then again: “Are we good?” I said yes except for the deafness thing. “It is what it is. Are we good?” he repeated, getting impatient.

I think we did one more round of this. I sighed and gave up.

As I said above, I should have done more.

The guest stopped by today and warned me that I would get a negative review! She said she wished I hadn’t stayed in the building. I usually stay elsewhere, but this event required elevator operation throughout the evening, some ongoing maintenance, and just answering normal questions. Plus a woman was roller skating on the pine floors and that concerned me a little. This overall vibe kept me wanting to be nearby. Mostly I stayed outside the downstairs lobby to protect my ears, but I did check occasionally.

I’m wondering if other hosts run into this, or similar issues, and what is the solution, if any? People at parties do not like negativity, but this kind of thing is hard to ignore.

The only thing I can recommend is to practice setting up very stern boundaries with guests.

I recently received a 3 star “would not book again” review with a guest who was pissed that my on-site coordinator and I were present…in my own home. They literally wanted me to leave my own home and hope that nothing got broken or stolen.

But during that rental, who was so adamant about their ‘privacy’ (in MY home), they attempted to light sage and do a pagan ritual, which they already knew was not allowed (for religious reasons and also because it would have set off the smoke detectors or sprinklers). Then they tried to light candles, which they also knew wasn’t allowed.

I’m mentioning all this because this is unfortunately the nature of the beast when renting private events. A frighteningly large percentage are looking to just party down and tear everything up, no matter what your house rules are. When you thwart their attempts to break your house rules, they retaliate by filing a negative review.

Eventually the review system will change, because it has to. But until it does, private events are going to leave negative review because many of the guests are entitled and feel that they should be allowed to do whatever they want. But until something changes, I recommend kicking people out when they get out of hand and if you aren’t comfortable, you can always hire a licensed guard for around $20 an hour. Just absorb the negative review and hopefully the next people will be better!

Hello Warren,

Our venue is inside a hotel, which makes it difficult for us to host large and loud parties to account for the staff working and guests staying at the hotel. This past July, we rented out our bar to a woman celebrating her 30th birthday. Although I tried my best to convey to her and her party that the noise had to be acceptable, there was a complete disregard on the night of the event. We ended up received a negative review, citing that we approached her DJ about lowering the volume too many times and about not giving her free valet parking. Even though she felt like the volume was appropriate, having a 150 person dance party on a Sunday night with a steady flow of Hennessy and bass-heavy rap made it difficult to fully operate other services inside our hotel.

But, since then, I’ve become more direct in the language that I use to describe our venue and the type of events that the space can accommodate. When I accept parties with live music or DJ(s), I provide hours in which the music must to shut off. I also state that as the facilities manager, I need to have a brief meeting with the DJ to ensure that they are mindful of the neighboring businesses or homes. Another condition for when the host of the party is unable to inform their DJs that the volume needs to be lowered, I must be able to inform the DJ to lower the volume a couple notches at a time, so that the volume change is not drastic. I would have your conditions stated in writing and agreed upon, prior to accepting the booking. You can always reference what was written when handling complaints.

I hope that this helps for future events!

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This loft sits on the third floor of a brick building and is amazingly soundproof. So noise leaking outside is not a problem— and there have been thunderous DJs and bands here.

And most of our Oakland party guests have been just great up til now, considerate and civilized. I never see the kind of intentional bad stuff that Deacon describes. My one problem review (so far) was of an offsite for a giant corporation.

So this party and its sadistic DJ were kind of special cases in the party sound category. The music was playing at a harmful degree of loudness, and indescribably shrill. My concern was over a dangerous situation: physical harm to people.

I guess the broader issue is this kind of hair-trigger response to anything negative from the host. I have learned not to point out piles of glitter after a party, even when a guest has agreed to the no glitter rule, or minor accidentally broken stuff, or permanent stains on the countertops; it just leads to heated discussions that go nowhere and only succeed in pissing off the guest.

Also, I will never be able to list the hundreds of bad things that guests could possibly do in the space and forbid them all. I mean— I never thought anybody would be roller skating around the loft!

Deacon, you seem to sort of have a slightly how-shall-I-say-it, severe relationship with guests, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. Also your place is a high-tech wonder with cameras everywhere, which is not something I would be comfortable with. I think a lot of the reason I get lots of bookings, besides the coolness of the loft itself, is the friendly attitude when we do initial walk-throughs. Maybe that’s why people get upset when I get strict!

I think there is another problem that people are touching on but not nailing directly and that is AirBnB. AirBnB has instilled the attitude in many renters that they can rent your space, that you will leave and that they can then DO WHATEVER THEY WANT. That it’s “their space” for the time they have rented it.

Uh… no… (this is ONLY for party and event people and never for productions who are generally professionals with an assignment to accomplish.)

We make it very clear during the walk thru that we have limits on sound (50 db is when we check in and try to keep the DJs down - most cooperate but a few disregard - or worse, turn it down while you are standing there only to have it ramp back up 5 minutes after you leave the room…) and rental times (we used to go til 2am, then people pushed it to 3 or 4, we now cut off at 11pm with an hour for clean up until 12am.)

You’d be surprised how many nice people APPRECIATE the host being on site if there are any issues to deal with (do you have any paper towels, can I hook up my bluetooth phone to your stereo, where is the clicker for the gate, is it ok for this, that or the other…?) It’s the ones who are using your house for things they would NEVER do at THEIR HOUSE that you have to watch out for.

Things got serious real fast after the multi-person shootings at that AirBnB party house in Oakland last year. We try to establish the rules IN ADVANCE and if we even DO any parties in the post-Covid era, I will be surprised.

Professional productions are great (and we’ve had many from ABC, Amazon, CNN, Apple, cable, music vids, photo shoots, fitness and cooking shows, etc.) but parties… frankly, a lot of problems. Will be passing on all but the most civilized of events (wine tastings yes, DJ battles, not so much) as 2020 ramps back up.

The printed rules concept (with signature) is a great idea.

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Hey Tim, hope you are well. When we shut down, my first thought was that we would be doing some extra cleaning upon re-opening. But naturally it will be much more complicated than that. We all need to develop comprehensive Policies & Procedures, prepare contracts and waivers, manage everything in terms of safety, health, and legal.

Sound/noise has always been my main challenge to manage, and along with that ensuring that our rear loading door remains closed (to contain music and crowd noise). It has been the main thing I dread, almost my only problem with renting. I hate playing babysitter.

So a huge question now is: how much are we responsible for monitoring our rentals and enforcing health safety policies? It was one thing to ask them to turn the music down. Now we need to watch capacity, ensure that everyone is wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance. Is it our job to clean common surfaces during the event, clean the bathroom every hour? Monitor food and drink and any possible health issues there?

Feels like we need a security guard and a cleaning person during each event. There are going to be many legal issues and lawsuits, so I don’t think it will work to just say that the person who books the space is responsible for all that.


Once event gatherings of a size that would warrant a DJ return I have some suggestions…

  1. Make a contract that the DJ has to sign at least 24-48hrs in advance. It’s not good enough to just tell the host. You need to directly communicate with the DJ in advance and have them sign the contract so that they know that if they break the rules, the plug is getting pulled, and it’s their fault the music has stopped. You can send a copy of the contract to your guest as well so that the rules are very clear and understood in advance. This significantly helps resolve issues from happening.

  2. Create a list of preferred DJs. Take note of the DJs you like… the ones who do a great job with the music and follow your rules. These DJs will be stoked to be one of your referrals and the prospect of continued gigs in the future. After you’ve assembled a solid list you can then take the route of suggesting your preferred list of DJs to your guests or you can take the route of requiring one of them be hired.

I initially went with my first route but eventually decided to make it a requirement. There were still too many instances of a random DJ being brought in that would just constantly test how high they could go. So now I just make it a requirement that it has to be one of my preferred DJs or they can simply connect their phone to my sound system.

You will certainly get the occasional guest that will plead to let their relative or friend be the DJ and you just simply tell them that it’s nothing personal, but that you’ve had too many bad experiences in the past. I always make it clear that my goal is to make sure the guests have a great time. If police arrive and the music gets shut off then the guests are not having a great time. Most will be totally understanding of this.

I also make it clear that my home is not a club. A DJ being brought in does not change that fact. Be very up front about how loud you allow things in your space.

The more hosts adopt this kind of structure the more it can become standard practice and then guests will not expect or attempt to bring in someone who will defy noise levels.

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Great points @Chris_P2. Indeed, many DJs feel it is their responsibility to get things amped up, and they give you that F*** Off look when you tell them to bring it down a little. I was just moving toward requiring one of our preferred DJs as we shut down.

Have you used dB meters at all? @Tim_D I believe you were using one, yes? Seems like a good way to quantify the issue, although I have not purchased one.

Hey @Brad_B you can download dB meter apps on your phone. Several free ones. Probably not as perfectly precise as a full fledged device but they work great.

Since last year I learned some stuff.

  1. I agree, your guest may have little to no control over the music levels. i have found that a brief conference with the DJ before the actual event, while they are setting up, can help. Usually at this time the DJ is in Anxious To Please mode. Be friendly and maybe mention other DJs who were out of control. Ask that they turn down in the last hour instead of up! This has worked pretty well so far.
  2. Amazon has a $60 large- display sound level meter. Search TestHelper SW-525A Sound Level Meter. It works great, everybody can see it easily and if you let it be known that you want the music to stay under say 80 db, it can really help.

I like the dB display idea. That’s good stuff.

In regards to talking to the DJ… if they aren’t a DJ that you have a pre-existing relationship with I have found it less effective than actually having them sign an agreement because more often than not, at the end of the day they’ll feel obligated to appease the guest who is paying them over you.