Sound in Small Venues

I watch the search terms that bring traffic to the site and pay attention to the comments both on the blog and on the main site. There have been questions regarding sound in small venues. One of the searchers today used ‘drums too loud in small venue’ as a search term. Drums are always loud, but can become a problem in confined spaces. In addition, the loudness of the drums often makes the other players need to play louder in order to hear themselves.

What can be done about volume in the small venue? The best available answer is to use a drum screen to reduce the direct sound from the drums. A drum screen is constructed of Plexiglas, usually in three sections with hinges or clips. They fold for transport and are free standing around the drum kit on stage. A drum screen will cut down on the direct sound of the drums into the room. The Plexiglas allows for visibility both for your crowd and for communication with the other players. Not only is the direct sound blocked to some extent but also bleed into vocal mikes and other instrument mikes is reduced. This can help a good deal with the sound in the room.

As far as amplified instruments in the small venue, placing the amps at the side of the stage can allow the musicians to hear without so much direct sound into the room. If the guitar player is using a combo amp a tilt stand can be of value, and if a tilt stand is not available at least put the rig on top of a box or case to get it up nearer ear level. These tricks along with a sensible approach to stage volume will help the band to sound better in a small venue. Stage volume should always be kept as low as possible. Stage amplification should be so that the musician hears the notes that he is playing. The sound in the room should be from the PA.

In a small venue the levels in the PA should be used to balance the sound. It is best to add only what is needed to the PA to get a full range sound in the room. The higher the stage volume the less there needs to be in the PA.

The PA should have better coverage than the stage amps. Guitar and keyboard amps tend to be fairly directional. Bass is not so directional especially in the lower octaves. It is better to keep the stage volume under control and allow the PA to set the volume in the room.

A combination of these hints will allow your band and music to sound better in a small venue.

Have you used any of these tricks or have you found other things that have helped your small venue sound?

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4 Responses to “Sound in Small Venues”

  1. Forflex Says:


    I play drums. I saw your article. I think you are on the right track. One of the things I’ve found helpful at small venues is to use a laptop beside my kit with APARAE. (

    The software has the ability (amonst other things) to graph my drum acoustic volume live. If I’m trying to play quite, I find it helps to see how I’m doing (as opposed to just feel).


  2. Valentin Says:

    Hey what’s up, I’ve been loking (in this and other sites) tips and pieces of advise about playing WITHOUT PA (only with amps). Of course I mean to play in relative small and indoor places.
    It would be cool if someone could tell me where to find this onformation (or if it’s useless for there is no tips for playing without PA and you have to trust in your intuition as musician)

  3. admin Says:

    If you are doing only instrumentals this should work fine. If there are vocals you will need a PA for vocal reinforcement if you are playing amplified music. The alternative would be to get a completely unplugged set together. Of course, some amplified speakers have small mixing facilities built in so you could hook up a vocal mike and an instrument.

  4. Thomas Says:


    I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far on this site, thanks for putting the considerable time into it.

    I thought it might be worth adding that usually if you do use a drum screen it’s a very good idea to mic up the drums for use in front of house because the drum screen means the audience doesn’t hear the direct sound of kit, instead they hear the sound reflected by the wall behind the drummer and ceiling, putting some drums back into the foh mix is usually necessary in my opinion.

    The other method I’ve found that works in small venues with noisy drums is to put creased gaffer tape on the underside of the crash and ride cymbals to damp them and if possible get the drummer to tighten the snare wires. The drummer may not like this as it ‘ruins’ the sound of their very expensive cymbals, but it can do wonders for the band being able to hear themselves and for a clean mix. The drummer may just prefer this method over having to “hold back”.

    Excellent advice regarding on-stage instrument amplifiers, pointing the speakers at the musician’s ears so they can hear should be obvious yet so so many people don’t do this! The worst is when a guitarist places an amp next their feet then turns up the volume followed by the top end and high-mid to compensate for not being able to hear anything but low-mid and low from the cabinet. With piercing tinny results for the audience and engineer.