How do I solve my band's residential noise problem?
February 28, 2005 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a band, and we practice in our drummer's basement. He has a next-door neighbor who can't stand our noise. Do we soundproof? Do we relocate?


We've been practicing in Ed-the-drummer's basement for about 16 months now, off-and-on. Mostly on. [We spent two or three months practicing in the basement of a friend of Ed's, but stopped doing so for a variety of reasons including lousy security.]

In that span, we've acquired a bassist and bigger, better amps. We've also dealt with occasional letters from the neighbor, who has become increasingly impatient with our band noise. Though we only practice two weeknights a week (with probably one of those nights off every couple weeks, on average), and constrain practice to a 7:30-9:30 PM window, we've still gotten increasing friction from her, and the kicker has been a couple visits from summoned cops in the last month.

We need to do something. The two solutions that seem obvious to me are (1) moving to a rented rehearsal space of some sort or (2) soundproofing the shit out of Ed's basement.

Both will cost money, obviously. However, I don't really know how much is fair/reasonable for monthly practice space (nor do I know what sort of security/etc a band can and should expect from such an arrangement).

On the other hand, the basement is something like 20x20 feet squared, ceilings about 7 feet high with exposed wooden rafters, cement walls, and several windows set near the top of the walls at ground level. Occasionally damp, as Portland basements tend to be. If we're going to spend the money to soundproof the basement, we need to do a pretty damn good job, because the neighbor lives next door and is becoming uncompromisingly psycho about this.
posted by cortex to Human Relations (19 answers total)
You would find it *very* difficult to completely soundproof a basement. Stuff you can buy commercially tends (Aurelex foam, etc.) to be designed to dampled reflections in a room (for ideal monitoring), rather than soundproofing, and while you can hang wall-hangings/eggboxes/etc., you'll find that will only attenuate high-frequencies, and the real problem - the bass frequencies - will get through no matter what.

I'd suggest, if it's a do or die thing, that you bite the bullet and find a rehearsal space you guys can afford...
posted by benzo8 at 9:36 PM on February 28, 2005

To add to my previous answer (and correct a spelling mistake or two - dampled=damped, etc.) - most "soundproof" studios, for instance, are actually a "room within a room" construction - a floating box wholly contained within another space - which I'm sure you can imagine, is very expensive to construct, and still isn't entirely sound proof on its own. It also needs a much larger outer room than you'd imagine to create a floating inner room that has space for a whole band to set up and practise. And that's before you consider ventilation, etc...
posted by benzo8 at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2005

Definitely find a practice space. If I were your neighbor, you would be destroying my life a couple nights a week, and I would probably crucify you. Sounds like she's been pretty patient.

In the meantime, can you practice at a much lower volume? I know that doesn't work everything out, and it certainly sucks some of the fun out of making music--but at least everybody wins until you can find another space.

Check with colleges for practice space. Another good resource are the Portland groups at There are lots of artists and musicians there, and they know where the practice spaces are.
posted by frykitty at 10:03 PM on February 28, 2005

And wouldn't you be just homicidal if you went to the trouble and expense to soundproof, and it turned out that your practices were still audible to the neighbor?

Practice space, or do what Mr. Padraigin does and practice in a garage with a giant padlock in a ghetto where nobody minds a little noise of a weekend.
posted by padraigin at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2005

16 months now...constrain practice to a 7:30-9:30 PM window...neighbor lives next door and is becoming uncompromisingly psycho about this

7-9, man that's like prime unwinding time for 9-5ers. Or if she's got kids, it's put the rugrats to bed time. Look at it from her perspective for a sec: 16 months of trying to be tolerant of the escalating noise. I'm just sayin'...

Regarding cheap solutions, I'm going to suggest Door #3. Is there any possibility of rehearsing at a time when her schedule makes it a non-issue? It sounds like the rest of the neighbors must okay with it, so if you can just come up with something to keep her need for peace from colliding with your need for rehearsal time, you should be golden.

If she's not too close to the brink already, consider sending over some flowers and a friendly note offering to find some way to make the situation works for both of you. If she's willing, but you're wary of mishandling the discussion, call around for a local mediation service. You can find out a lot about what's gotten under the person's skin and what they'd like, in just an hour or two.

Even if the whole attempt fails, your costs are minimal and there's you'd at least get a better understanding of what exactly is bugging her the most. Maybe you'll discover that just making sessions shorter, or picking a different day, or muffling the bass line would be enough to make some inconvenience acceptable.

The other reason to talk to her first is that there's always that possibility that you blindly solve the wrong problem. What if you soundproof then find out that her real problem is with having a harder time finding parking near her house on rehearsal days, or paranoia about bad influences/resale value/etc. It would suck to make that much investment and still be getting flak from her.

(on preview, dang, while my modem was being flaky some of this got covered already.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:19 PM on February 28, 2005

If you want a cheap practice space, you could try storage facilities. My brother-in-law's band rents a garage unit in an industrial area, which they've lined with carpet for acoustics. It's secure with 24-hour monitoring and is cheap enough for students to manage.
posted by tracicle at 11:22 PM on February 28, 2005

Along the same lines as what nakedcodemonkey suggested, if rehearsal space costs $X a week, consider offering something less than that ($X/2?) to your neighbor to create a convenient time. Maybe they'd be willing to go see a movie a couple nights a week on your nickel.
posted by zanni at 11:52 PM on February 28, 2005

It sounds like the rest of the neighbors must okay with it, so if you can just come up with something to keep her need for peace from colliding with your need for rehearsal time, you should be golden.

Not necessarily. She may be the one who's particularly vocal in her complaints, but it's entirely possible that other neighbors are also equally aggravated -- but instead of complaining outright they're just suffering in silence as your band interrupts their dinner, prevents their kids from going to bed or doing their homework, etc. Nothing against being in a band -- hey, some of my best friends are in bands -- but seriously: be considerate to all your neighbors and get a rehearsal space. If they really wanted to hear you play, they'd come to a gig.
posted by scody at 12:09 AM on March 1, 2005

No disrespect to your musical ability, but I'd much rather have a full-on live show going on next door than band practice. You have to remember that part of what's irritating about it is the stop/start, the repetition, the messing around, the tuning, mishaps, etc. Listening to people practice music is really annoying, mentally as well as aurally. It's the mental part that even a good 80% soundproofing can't remedy.

Good luck with finding a practice space. There must be lots of bands in Portland in similar situation. Are there "timeshares" for this kind of thing?
posted by scarabic at 12:32 AM on March 1, 2005

I agree with ncm, two nights a week 7-9 would drive anyone mental. Have you spoken to her about if there's a time when she's out?
posted by cillit bang at 3:35 AM on March 1, 2005

Storage facilities! Yes! My band splits a storage unit with a few other bands. We schedule things through a yahoo calendar. Works out to a mere $13/month per person. We've hear a mariachi band, a metal band, and this fine band in other storage units. It's a scene, dude.

Here's the drawbacks

1) Our unit isn't climate controlled. Space heaters in the winter, sweating in the Carolina summer

2) Still have to soundproof to cut down the reverb

3) Someone has to sign a lease. And collect the money from all the other musicians you are splitting with. And musicians are so fiscally responsible.

With regards to issue #3, we're starting to make folks pay three months at a time- this brings in the first month's rent for the lease holder fairly quickly, and gives time to shake down the deadbeats to cover the next two months.

But it's great have no noise issues at all, other than some competition from neighboring units. Dedicated, paid for space, make you use you time more sensibly too.
posted by bendybendy at 4:09 AM on March 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

Do we soundproof? Do we relocate?

You relocate.

She is not being unreasonable, though what you're doing eventually may make her so, and (as scody notes) she may not be the only one. If Ed were my neighbor, first I would ask him to stop, but if that didn't work I (or my friends in the building, depending on whose turn it was) would call the police every week until it stopped or until Ed had to sell his drums to pay the fines. And it wouldn't be because we don't love our neighbor Ed and his friends to pieces, but because you can't expect people to live with the noise of a band practicing next door.

Also, remember that band members change. Ed the drummer may be out next week after he is discovered by a talent scout or (as is perhaps more common) by the singer with the singer's girlfriend. The combinations of things that can go wrong are numerous.

But having a common rehearsal space that you all pay for and equally share would at least give your band a steady home. If you picked the right spot, it would also be a place for one or two of you to go and try out things without the full band, a place to escape and write, and a safe place to store equipment.

Do it right: get a place in a non-residential area, preferably in an industrial area where people wouldn't notice if you were throwing grenades at midnight. Call around some long-term storage places. You might find a place with good security and electricity that also can be used as practice space.
posted by pracowity at 4:36 AM on March 1, 2005

I am yet another person come to tell you of the glories of getting a practice space. Not that they don't come with their own set of issues, but in the end, not only will Ed's neighbor thank you, but you'll thank yourself.
posted by safetyfork at 6:21 AM on March 1, 2005

The only time I've heard of bands being able to rehearse in a residential area is when A) the house is in the middle of the boonies, and the nearest neighbor is half a mile away or B) when the neighborhood is such that no one would dare call the cops for fear of their own illegal activities being discovered.

I don't think either option is particularly ideal. (although my husband's band practices in a pretty rough area, and the crackheads have yet to complain as long as they stop by ten thirty or eleven at night).
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:24 AM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: Good stuff all around. It sounds like relocation is a gimme -- proofing bass frequencies would indeed be the main problem (the neighbor once wrote Ed a note referencing "that insistent drum tattoo"), and building a serious subroom would be very expensive and impractical at this point.

So, storage units, eh? The idea had occured to me, but the availability of power, the question of whether it would break any rules...sounds like it's a fairly common scheme though. We'll have to examine this.

Ed is also, hopefully, going to do the mediation thing with the neighbor. I expect nothing to come of it other than perspective on both their parts -- the neighbor is (however justified considering the noise she's objecting to) being really hardcore uncompromising about the situation -- there is no time at which us making any noise she can hear is acceptable, now, for varying values of "hear". The idea of paying her to go hang out with friends a couple hours a night a couple nights a week is brilliant, yes, but even the cop she sicced on us acknowledged (while making the same brainstorm) that she didn't seem like the sort of lady who has friends. Arg!

But I shouldn't let my frustration with that bleed into this. Rehearsal space, perhaps storage facility, sounds like the order of the day at this point.

Any specific suggestions about that end of things?
posted by cortex at 6:31 AM on March 1, 2005

I have to add that I think it is really great that you are being this considerate of the neighbor's needs. I live under a band that likes to start rehersing when I'm going to bed, and practices the drums in the middle of the day and early evening. Yes, start and stop, speeding up, playing one note over and over. The floor acts as a speaker, and the building in general is new, sections of an old factory, so there aren't any thick walls or floors to mask any noise. These guys think they can act like they're in college forever, and I wish they'd stop being so childish about it.

So, mad props, and a storage space sounds awesome. Post on Craigslist to share one with other bands, and look around the boards to find out where bands are doing this.
posted by scazza at 7:45 AM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: Yikes, band practice in a multi-occupant building? For all my musical self-centeredness, I can't imagine mustering that sort of hubris.
posted by cortex at 7:56 AM on March 1, 2005

If you're willing to spend money, and want to stay where you are, why not buy your drummer a set of pads and a drum brain? If you have control over drum volume, the other instruments can crank down without getting drowned out, and you can run the whole rehearsal at lower volume. This is good for your hearing *and* good for your neighbors.

You can take that a step further and DI all the instruments into a mixer, using amp simulators if that suits your taste, and monitor at whatever level you can get away with. This is what one of the bands I'm involved with does: we monitor the instruments through a little 20 watt stereo amp, set just loud enough to back up an unamplified voice. Everybody can hear everything, but we can practice in an apartment without irritating the neighbors, and we don't have to choose between earplugs and hearing damage.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:28 PM on March 1, 2005

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