Keeping the Rock Alive
March 20, 2007 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I've always been annoyed by people who make a racket in the neighborhood. I'm likely to be one of those people next year. How can I soundproof a room, pacify neighbors, and avoid police?

So, I have a band - a rock band, and we're living in a house next year. We're all in college, and the house is in our sort-of-college-town (Williamsurg, VA). There's one good-sized bedroom which will definitely fit out instruments and amps, and we can change it up a bit, but we're still renting. By instruments I mean two electric guitars, a bass, and drums. Amps are 60W, 15W tube, and 85W bass amp. So it can get a little loud. The house next door will be cool with a bit of noise, but the one across our backyard has (oh, no...) old people.

So, foam on the walls? Soft furniture? Should we talk to them first, or see if we can get away with it? Anyone been in a similar situation?
posted by tmcw to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd talk to them first, see if you can smooth things over; at least maybe they'll call you before they call the police. Maybe if you come across as just terrifically charming guys you could work something out where you only make obnoxious levels of noise during certain hours, and everyone stays happy. You really can't tell unless you give it a shot.

And hey, maybe you'll walk over there to say hi, and find out they're both deaf or extremely hard of hearing.

Either way, I'd pay a visit; it pays to be neighborly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:30 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: yeah, definitely approach your neighbors and feel them out. what we always did was set rehearsal times at reasonable hours, say tuesday and thursdays 7-9 pm, and stick to those hours. Never make noise later than 9 pm. When you have others over, not band mates, don't let them rock out on the equipment. When you have parties put it all away. When you work on your own do so with headphones or if you're the drummer then do it quietly and during daylight.

people are usually pretty reasonable if they can get a feel for when exactly you'll be practicing, and when exactly it'll stop. if you follow your schedule it'll be good for the band and good for the neighbors ,who will respect your professionalism.

Maybe let them know occasionally someone might practice a guitar or drum, but really stick with the schedule, and no playing drunk in the middle of the night!

As for soundproofing, carpet works very well, put it over the windows. A carpet store will sell you remnants and the thrift store can sell you some area rugs.

remember, stick to the schedule, be professional, and don't let it get louder than it needs to...and never fire it up during a drunken moment in the middle of the night!

if you got a basement, try that as opposed to the living room.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 7:40 PM on March 20, 2007

If they are not deaf, frankly, your effed. Turn your amps down, line the walls with egg cartons, carpet and anything sound deadening, but that is tough. Hve your drummer practice on an electric drum kit and then you guys might actually be able to keep the volume to a neighborly level. The suggestion for finding a particular time slot in which you can rock out to your heart's content is a pretty good one if they will agree. Otherwise, you are going to see the cops a lot.
posted by caddis at 7:50 PM on March 20, 2007

When you approach the neighbors, bring examples. "Here's an example of the acoustic foam we'll be putting up. Here's an example of the music we play. Here's a printed practice schedule. Here's my phone number if there's any trouble."

The more they know, the more likely they'll accept it. The worst thing will be when they don't know how loud it will be, when they don't know who is doing it, when they don't know when it will stop...
posted by frogan at 7:51 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

What are you going to do when it's summer? It's going to get hot. When you open the window (as the band that briefly lived next to me did) your soundproofing is for naught. I hope you have a cool basement and stay cool.
posted by Listener at 8:02 PM on March 20, 2007

Defintely talk to the neighbors. Give them a card or note with your contact info on it so they can call you (instead of the police) to turn down the rock.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:08 PM on March 20, 2007

Article that suggests several resources.
posted by mlis at 8:14 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: In a rental unit, for little or no money, "soundproofing" a room is practically impossible, as the disclaimers at the top of the article mlis linked above suggest. "High mass sheet damping materials" are actually worth about the same in sound attenuation as a cheap 3/8" layer of drywall board. A single layer of carpet applied to walls damps some very high frequencies above 13K, but there isn't much sound energy actually transmitted at those frequencies. What carries to your neighbors, and what takes lots of mass (like cinderblock walls and reinforced ceilings over concrete slabs, or 2 X 4 stud walls on 8" centers, filled with sand and faced on both sides with 1" high strength marine grade plywood) to attenuate sufficiently, is the 100 to 1000 Hz tones you'll love to generate as primary musical notes.

Really, the most realistic thing you can do when faced with the constraints you've outlined, is to not generate the notes at any real volume, in the first place. 1 to 5 watt practice amps are your friends, particularly if you can get your drummer to play on an electronic practice kit.

Or, rent some cheap practice space in an industrial area, where no one cares how loud you get. That's the professional solution, and what I really recommend. Playing rock with 3 buddies in a spare bedroom only sounds like a good idea until you actually try it.
posted by paulsc at 8:52 PM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you have enough books to completely line a room with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves, it can make for significant sound insulation, but no guarantees if you're blasting rock music at the top of your amps' capacities.
posted by trip and a half at 9:03 PM on March 20, 2007

Heh, an old rock myth, those egg cartons. Been there...
12 mattresses hung on the walls will do more than 314,617 egg cartons. They don't do sh*t for your sound inside, but mutes it nicely outside.
Oh and playing Loud in a small room will kill your ears. Period. You just need to turn down and the drummer puts towels over his skins. Listen to paulsc. It's whats called practice. Otherwise you need to rethink and find a place (studio or vacant space like everyone suggests).
posted by artdrectr at 9:13 PM on March 20, 2007

Been there. Real soundproofing is expensive and hard—doing it to a space you don't own is harder yet.

The set schedule idea is good. Getting on pre-emptive good terms with your neighbors is good. Barring good relations with tolerant neighbors, you may be stuck knowing your rights as noisemakers and being sure not to overstep them.

Find out what the local laws and ordinances are regarding sound levels and hours; have someone do an accurate decibel check from outside the house while you and the band are playing at your peak volume level; and ride that line so that when the police show up you can present yourselves competently.

If you're not comfortable being the annoying-but-legally-sanctioned neighbors, you will have to either practice elsewhere or consign yourselves to making much less noise than you would like to. Which of those is more viable depends on the temperament of your bandmates and how much the sound experience vs. the technical side of the rehearsal (vibe vs. correctness?) defines a useful practice.
posted by cortex at 9:50 PM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas so far! There is a basement, which we aren't supposed to be using, but I'm going to ask and see if we can. There's little chance of an electronic drum kit or external space... the budget for this venture is practically $0. Oh, and we don't play ear-bleedingly loud - the volume is just enough to balance out drums. And we wear earplugs, often.
posted by tmcw at 10:02 PM on March 20, 2007

Wearing earplugs is a really good idea, but if you have to wear earplugs, you're likely well into the danger zone for ambient noise issues. You may have to train your drummer to play a lot quieter than he wants to.
posted by cortex at 10:08 PM on March 20, 2007

When we did this in college (no band, but parties and old people) we hung comforters from the ceiling. We got some heavy duty clips or clamps from home depot and screwed them in at regular intervals along the rim of the ceiling. We then hung all of our comforters up around the room, paying special attention to the window areas. We had some rockin' packed to the gills dance parties and no complaints from the neighbors. (If any of the house is out there in the interweb- Hi!)

It might have helped that we warned them first and told them we were doing all we could to soundproof.
posted by ohio at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2007

and never fire it up during a drunken moment in the middle of the night

Please, for the love of god, take this to heart. Don't be that guy, you know, the one who decides that serenading the neighborhood with a Van Halen-esque cover of "Pretty Woman" at 4am is a really good idea.

grump grump need sleep grump grump hate neighbors so much argh
posted by Vervain at 10:24 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: OK. This comes from living in band houses and show houses, and taking a class on recording (which actually has a fair amount on dampening).

First off, eliminate the sound that you can. You can take your bass through direct line, and likely your guitar too. Send it back through headphones.
If that doesn't work (you don't have a mixer), you can make amp cases that help a lot. We used desks, stuffed them with acoustic foam, and covered them with carpet. That allows practice volume, or enough for the band to sync, while still dampening a huge amount of the leakage. Not too expensive. You can also use those squishy doormat things, which absorb a lot of sound. Another great material is the wadding they give you at moving stores or truck rentals, which is like compressed drier lint.

Next, the drums. No electronic kit, that's cool. So stuff the drums as much as you can. The kick should have blankets wadded in there, and the toms can be stuffed too. You can dampen the snare and hihat too, if you want, but they're not going to get as far as the kick, and can fuck up the sound (assuming you're not just practicing for the timing).

For the room— use comforters or the aforementioned moving blankets to cover the walls and windows. Build bass sinks by using plastic trash cans filled with foam, the denser the better. You should usually set 'em up in the corners and behind the drummer, to minimize bass reflection and standing waves. You can also head down to a local junkyard and buy car seats, the foam and vinyl kind— we got 'em really fucking cheap (I think we paid $20 for twelve or so), and you can snap the seats so they'll lay straight, then slap 'em up on the walls. They suck sound like no one's business.

As for the neighbors, yeah, talk to 'em. Be aware of your local noise ordinance. Here, it's 10pm when everything shuts down.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 PM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wherever you end up practicing, stick with the earplugs. Do it every time (think of it like condoms -- always have more than you need, always use them). You seriously don't want to start your first hearing aid in your 40s (or turn out like Pete Townshend, Ted Nugent and all the other people with constant tinnitus).
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:48 PM on March 20, 2007

If you are uber serious about dampening the sound, you can build a room inside your practice space. A friend of mine did this inside his garage. Essentially he built a bunch of modular wall sections about 6 inches thick, 4 feet wide and 9-10 feet tall, with drywall on both sides and insulation in between. He then assembled these in his garage into a cube, with a door on one side and (i think) particle board underneath. Very hot, but you couldn't hear much of anything outside.
posted by beerbajay at 2:05 AM on March 21, 2007

So I have a band that practises next door and here's my advice: don't do it anytime that's even remotely anti-social. Ask your neighbours first. If you want to have a late-ish evening rehearsing, and by late-ish I mean past 8pm, go and knock on their door and tell them.

And seriously consider going somewhere else, isolated, to practice.
posted by jasperella at 3:52 AM on March 21, 2007

Yes, please don't practice after 9pm, for the sake of the neighbors who are "cool with it" as well as the old folks. My frat boy neighbors have band practice every Tuesday starting at 11pm, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to be home during the early evening when they decide to bring the mic out on the front lawn and sing horrible, horrible covers a cappella.

To recap: not after 9, and never outside.

I'm moving soon.
posted by wearyaswater at 5:29 AM on March 21, 2007

Does your campus offer any kind of practice space they'd consider letting you use for regular practices? Sometimes if you list your band as a campus club you can get access, or they may be amenable to sharing the room if you can prove the band has some social benefit (play on campus once or twice). I've lived next to bands as a young, not-grouchy student, and found that there was never a time I liked being home while they were practicing--it interrupted my ability to nap, concentrate, or just hang out in my own space. I didn't matter when the band practiced, or that they were good--it was still frustrating, and it made me really resent the neighbors.
posted by hamster at 5:51 AM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: tmcw - I was in several bands when at W&M, both on- and off- campus. Back then, Psi U had a house on the row, and we practiced in the basement. They're in a lodge now, right? Or off-campus? So that's moot. We also practiced in one of the freshman dorms (Fauquier, I think?), but it sounds like you're going to have to be off-campus.

Another band I was in practiced in an off-campus house, on Wythe Lane (between Cary and Griffin, off Jamestown). We put up several layers of carpet on the walls of the garage, and only practiced during daylight hours. It didn't seem to be a problem for the neighbors. That was with a drum kit, one or two electric guitars, and a bass. It wasn't terrifically loud, which probably helped.

I also had some other friends who rented a storage unit out Richmond Road. Their music was much louder than ours, and I think playing in that space was their best option.

Regarding on-campus spaces, you might be able to practice in the basement theater of the Campus Center (near WCWM). It's sometimes used for meetings and things, but I imagine that at night it's not used a lot.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:19 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: @hamster: My school is really hurting for space of any kind. We can become a student org, but that wouln't give us any reasonable practice space. Right now we have to use music rooms occasionally.

@Alt F4: Psi U is no longer: they got caught for drugs, and then had a party that night, and got caught again. Admire the audacity, but...

A storage unit is an interesting option - is playing in one okay (as in, is it something that you can do without risking your lease?)
posted by tmcw at 2:39 PM on March 21, 2007

Fiberglass insulation works well, although it might not exactly contribute to the visual aesthetic of the room. Try Owens Corning 703 or ask around at the hardware store for something similar.
posted by idledebonair at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2007

tmcw - Sad about Psi U. Not surprising, but sad, nonetheless. Their parties (especially Owl Night) were insane.

Regarding the storage center / rental unit, I think you'd have to ask for a copy of the rental agreement and just check it out. The one they were in was far enough away from residential areas (and right next to the railroad tracks) that I don't think it was a problem.

Before you do all that, though, I think talking to the neighbors would be the best option.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:01 PM on March 22, 2007

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