HEADLIGHTS Studio ©

Clubs live or die on one main factor:
the invisible yet audible 'Wow!' Factor.
Why Clubs live and die


Jay Salsburg 08/28/2013

Believe it or not, there actually is a Live Stage and a Band in this photo of a local popular Nightclub taken only 20 feet from the Stage. For all it is worth, the Band is not needed, a Juke Box would do. The band is forced to setup and play on a 5 inch high riser measuring only 6 by 7 feet in the corner of the room. The entrance to the Parking Lot is directly in front of the Stage requiring clientele to pass in front of the band hundreds of times during each performance through the throngs of dancers. This is poor management and planning, that together with poor Lighting, a Television showing Sports directly over the Band, and a crappy Sound System, the owners show disrespect toward the Performing Artists, treating them as though they were an Appliance. To top off the insult; the Owner requires the Band play only "Top 40 Dance Tunes". It is not a matter of Money, this club makes millions of dollars profit per year. The better Musicians in Town will not play there.

Even though this Club makes money for the owner, he does not contribute to local culture or the success of the Performing Arts in the Community. This Club is a detractor for Musicians making the Club a pariah. This effectivley isolates the Club, forcing the Owner into a corner, with more and more Musicians refusing to perform, the same old cover tunes are heard over and over, night after night by the same tired bands. One needs only a single visit, a repeated visit will be just like the previous visit.

The key to successful continuation (of any enterprise) is renewal. Jay Salsburg

"Buying Speakers at Radio Shack or Best Buy does make you an Audio Engineer any more than buying a box of tools at Sears makes you a Mechanic." Jay Salsburg

"A mix is as much a Performance as a Gig." David Gilmour, Pink Floyd

Money and time spent creating and maintaining an Entertainment Business is wasted if attention to detailing the venue's Audio and Stage is ignored. Poor sound will also cause loss of respect with local Musicians. If you ignore a good Sound System for your live performers, your venue will be avoided by the better talent. Consistently good Sound is like consistently good food. In a restaurant, if your food is good one day and poor the next, people will not return. The same is true if you depend on the Live Performers to do their own Sound, the quality is up to them, which reflects poorly of you.

Entertainment Venues are not popular because they serve intoxicating drinks, they are popular because people can meet other people, however, this factor only sustains a venue for a few months. Young people today get bored quickly. A Nightclub's business will soon taper off if it does not pay attention to certain Primary technical factors...

Good fidelity in sound reproduction and professional operation standards goes far toward wowing your clientele. Bad sound reproduction and operation equals bad club experience.

Primary factors:


Room acoustics: Treating the room for acoustics and proper speaker placement is as important, if not more so, than the electronics and wiring. Acoustic equalization is usually the purview of acoustic engineers. This obscure and little known science is usually physically overlooked and disregarded by club owners. Acoustic equalization can add world-class quality to your club's sound. Proper speaker placement together with the use of Sound Traps (Absorbers),  Pylons, and Hertzian Radiators (Diffusers) , will provide superior sound performance. Superior sound system performance is not obtainable without acoustic equalization. Disregarding acoustic equalization causes a room to be out-of-control. Control of the acoustics translates into superior sound quality and happier clientele. Acoustic treatments in a room allows your clientele to carry on a conversation yet be able to hear the Sound System at the same time, without acoustic treatments, the sound mostly chaos.

Speaker placement: This may sound simple but it is not. Speaker placement is the least understood facet of Sound Systems. Proper speaker placement should be carefully and scientifically applied. Do not depend on the DJ or musicians to place the speakers. Very few people understand proper application of Sound reinforcement devices. Hire an expert with the experience and the instruments to analyze and determine proper placement.

Proper installation: Maintenance and Calibration of electronics. It does not matter how much money you spend on the electronics if it is not properly installed. Electronic systems also need periodic maintenance and calibration just like an automobile. Schedule regular maintenance and calibration, at least once a month, performed by an experienced technician. Do not depend on DJs, bartenders, or musicians to keep your Sound System running in tip-top condition. Musicians or DJs are like Race Car drivers. If you are sponsoring a Race Car, the Driver is the least-likely person to keep the Car in good working order.

Electronic equalization (EQ): Electronic equalization comes in three flavors; Shelving, Graphic, and Parametric.

Shelving controls are your conventional tone controls like treble and bass. A variant to Shelving controls is the loudness control or switch you see on most home receivers. Unfortunately, most large sound systems are conspicuously missing this very useful control. Proper use of shelving equalization and loudness equalization by the operator leads to better sound performance than not using them.

Most people know about Graphic Equalization but few know how to use it or have the instruments to calibrate them properly. Graphic EQ is designed to compensate for inadequacies and non-linearities in speaker performance and room acoustics. Once the Graphic EQ is calibrated using acoustic analyzers, they should be locked away from tampering hands.

Parametric equalizers are usually not used in clubs. They are used in recording studios and large public address systems at concerts.

Sound System Operation: Operator abuse such as a heavy hand on the volume control and yelling into the microphone are typical sources of distortion, and speaker/amplifier damage -- much less irritating everyone in the room. As the audio power increases into a loudspeaker the driver in the loudspeaker becomes less and less faithful to reproducing the energy it receives. Technically this is known as non-linearity. There is a point at which this 'Distortion' becomes audible. This distortion causes listening fatigue in your clientele and forces them to put distance between them and your cash register.

Loudness: Hot spots of loudness and poor EQ listed above naturally repel clientele. Hot spots are caused by improper installation or poor choice of equipment. Sound reinforcement devices should be chosen specifically for the application. Too much reinforcement creates just as bad an impression as too little reinforcement. Ideally, the distance between the Speakers and everyone in the room should be the same. This, of course, is not possible, but the theory should be practiced as closely as possible. This is done by placing the Speakers high above the crowd, and pointing them down toward the floor.

Poor Speaker Placement will repel customers, causing irresolvable stress in your clientele, driving them out of your club or keeping additional self-respecting clientele from visiting. Good sound means plenty of well-heeled clientele.

Avoid Operator Error. DJs and musicians tend to overdrive or improperly mix the Sound. Be sure to hire experienced operators that understand the 'Good Sound' to avoid poor sound when operating the system. Do not hire the 'Guy off the Street'. Have regular DJ competition and contests. This keeps your present DJs 'in line'. Use discretion when choosing a DJ, because he is operating expensive equipment, in many clubs costing more than a new automobile. Think of your system the same way as a new car; would you lend your new car to your DJ? If not, that person may not be a wise choice. Keep the DJ secretly on probation. Establish performance requirements for him that you share with all employees. Encourage comment about the Sound and Music from your clientele and staff. Consistent failure to perform established requirements results in permanent replacement of the DJ. Conservatively, profanity on the microphone should never be allowed. Profanity on the Sound System is a license for your clientele to disrespect you and your property and may lead to violence. If your DJ consistently asks "What" during a conversation to repeat what is said, he is deaf and should not be operating your Sound.

Theme Variety. Gone are the days of 'one concept-one crowd'. Be prepared to change themes when the time comes, whether it is annually or every three years. Many clubs find that different themes work best on different nights. Typically, clubs need three to four strong nights a week to survive, rather than a big Friday or Saturday night. Targeting a different market segment each night can revive those dead periods. Themes show-off your entertainment creativity. If you have difficulty with this, there are many expert references from which to choose providing interesting and stimulating theme-night motifs to help you effectively attract more clientele. Remember there are few 'Entertainment Experts' and even fewer 'Expert Entertainers'. Experimenting is the call here, however, do not experiment with expensive shows and decorations, especially in your first few months.

Budget. Experienced architects, designers and contractors do not come cheap, but quality never does either. In the long run, it becomes more expensive to hire inexperienced personnel.

After all, is it not about control? There are many approaches to getting the room under control, as many as you can buy. This may sound cynical but there are many people out there, including Professionals who have been in the SOUND business for years and may make their living at one aspect of the trade or another who think they know what to do to make a Sound System better. In the past 35 years, the electronics industry has made remarkable progress in the area of sound reinforcement technology. Unfortunately, many owner-operators think that purchasing a new electronic box or speaker system can make their sound better, and this is true to some extent. However, this errant concept comes true when the electronics over powers the acoustics. The room in which the equipment operates is the primary contributor to the quality of the sound. Musical performances can be presented without electronics. In an all-acoustic performance, the quality of the room acoustics is the entire determining factor in the quality of the performance experienced by the audience.

When electronic sound reinforcement is added to a performance, either recorded or live, the room acoustics and everything else mentioned above are also amplified, in some cases multiplied. If there is poor acoustics, the sound system amplifies them as well as the sound source to be amplified. The concept here is to do things with the sound sources and the reflecting surfaces (walls and ceiling) to enhance their sound reinforcement performance. This happens in phases. Once the process has ended, it need not be repeated unless the room is remodeled, the Stage is moved, or the Speaker Systems are moved.

1. Measure the acoustic signatures of the reflecting surfaces, both the static and the dynamic signatures.
2. Determine the best location for the speaker systems, usually high (flying) above the Stage 10 to 15 feet apart, then move them there.
3. Determine the best solution to the acoustic problems with test panels (traps and diffusers).
The test fixtures consist of custom made Pylons and Hertzian Radiators tuned to the correct size to eliminate the particular acoustic problems for a specific site in the room.
4. Expand fixture placement.
By adding more and more Pylons and Hertzian Radiators (Diffusers), the room starts to come under control. These additions progress to achieve particular results. The results can be documented and displayed using a click generator and Waterfall Spectrum Analysis. Generally, echo needs to be eliminated and reverberation times need to be reduced to under one-half second.
5. Reanalyze the room for elimination of 'Hot Spots'.
Hot spots of unwanted radiation causes listeners unwanted stress and distraction.
6. Calibrate electronic equalizers.
By using the Waterfall Spectrum Analyzer, the electronic equalizers can be calibrated to further bring the sound under control. Many modern equalizers have automated equalization, a stand-alone Analyzer may not be needed.
7. Reanalyze static spectrum for equalization 'Hot Spots'.
By finding and eliminating the remaining 'Hot Spots', the room becomes very manageable.
8. Recalibrate electronic equalizers.

A final adjustment of the electronic equalizer creates a synergistic effect that is remarkable.