Noise Complaints - What’s The Best Solution?
When practicing, recording or writing music it is likely that you will be making noise of some kind. For musicians this is a necessity but not everyone will see it that way. Everyone knows this is not out of malice and tends to be a clash of interests since not everyone is the same. What we will discuss today is the different ways a noise complaint can manifest and how best to avoid them or mitigate the consequences.
The most important variable of a noise complaint is living arrangement. The ideal circumstances would be a home recording setup in a separate room in your home that has all of your instruments and gear, you may even have this sound proofed. This way you are in a totally isolated environment specifically designed to make your hobby as convenient as possible for you and anyone you might share a home with.
Unfortunately this is not possible for everyone typically due to space or money considerations. In a pre-COVID world a musician would take to a studio or rehearsal space which solves the noise problem entirely. At the moment most of these spaces are closed under lockdown measures. This also adds a time and cost burden that you may not be able to afford around the rest of your life or budget.
For the majority of musicians who perhaps flat share or stay with family it is more realistic that your music space is in your bedroom. This causes a battle for space with no winner. Where this leaves you is with nowhere to go if your housemates or neighbours complain about the noise you are making.
Since everyone is different, one of the safest things you can do is endeavour to keep any disagreement amicable - as no one would expect you to stop playing altogether - but you must recognise that if you want the noise complaint to stop this will require effort from both sides.
First ask yourself: are you playing at a reasonable hour? If your flatmate works night shifts are you making sure to practice while they are not sleeping? Setting curfews for high volume practice can eliminate frustration if the other party is aware of when they could expect to hear you playing music. Letting the other party know that you work until 5pm most days, so they can expect to hear you play after then but no later than 9pm when it starts to approach bedtime might solve the situation.
What kind of gear are you using? We all have different assortments of equipment that we play through but some are more appropriate than others. If you are just running scales for an hour you won’t need to play through your Marshall stack. If you need to record an aggressive solo try to plan when to record this. If you cannot avoid loud or amplified playing at ‘quiet’ hours but you can wear headphones this might solve the problem.
If the noise complaint begins to cause anti-social relationships (such as banging on the wall or ceiling) the best thing you can do is address the problem politely. By knocking on your neighbour’s door or speaking to your flatmate directly this will give both parties a chance to voice their opinion. It is important that you listen to the other party, as mutual sympathy is the only way the problem will stop. You can use any of the advice above to explain why your noise is necessary and you may learn something about the complaint. For example, if they are a neighbour they may have a new born or pet that is frightened by loud noises. If the complainant is adamant that your music noise be taken elsewhere, you may discuss a contribution to visit a rehearsal space on the proviso that your music noise does indeed leave your home.
It goes without saying you cannot stop every noise complaint from happening, or happening again. What I hope we can work towards is ownership for our own noise and taking steps to ensure that we change perception of musicians from being loud, brash, inconsiderate rock stars as some are wont to judge.
What key points to consider are how valuable your music space and noise is to you and if there is anything that you can do to reduce the possibility of a noise complaint arising. This will change if you are a curious new start, well established hobbyist, or full-time working musician.
What I will leave you with is that there are always two narratives in any dispute and neither can cancel the other out. All you can do is explain what your situation is and do your best to understand where the complainant is coming from. Talking about the problem will open up potential solutions that keep everyone happy if both parties are willing.
Cameron "Smithy" Smith
Cameron is a friend of Songplistic and one of Songplistic’s session musicians. He plays bass for Sloan & the First Gentlemen as well as Berkeley Wedding & Function Band.