I wasn't at the party BECAUSE OF THE FUCKING NOISE

There's one aspect of SxSW that I didn't discuss in my previous entry: the reason why I went to only a few parties. Most nights I was back in my hotel around 11:00. That's not really sociable, is it? Unfortunately I was unable to attend most parties BECAUSE OF THE FUCKING NOISE.

I'm wondering if it would be at all possible to just turn off the LOUD BACKGROUND MUSIC at conference parties.

Put a few hundred geeks together in a small space, give them beer, laptops, an Internet connection, and interesting presentations or projects to discuss, and they'll produce a fair amount of decibels. That's fine; it's what supposed to happen.

Unfortunately, all bar owners seem to think that we really appreciate THIS EXTREMELY LOUD, BAD MUSIC BLARING ON AND ON because (apparently) we don't have any conversation to make. Several panelists complained about having a sore throat because they had to shout all the time to make themselves heard OVER THE DRONING BACKGROUND MUSIC that nobody's really interested in, anyway.

Now I have this slight hearing impediment that I think is called cocktail party deafness. It's nothing really serious, and usually my ears work fine. Except, unfortunately, when there's THIS LOUD BACKGROUND NOISE to contend with. If that's the case, I can't make out about 50% of what somebody's saying to me, and I have to guess what the subject of the conversation is. Usually this gets quite stressful after a while, and I quit the party.

When I go to a CONCERT I can't really talk to anyone because I can't hear them well enough. That's fine; I come there for the music anyway, and by now my friends are used to it.

But I go to conference parties to talk and listen to other people. When, in addition to the conversation, there's also this BACKGROUND NOISE GOING ON ALL THE TIME I just can't make out what people are saying to me. That's annoying.

The single party at which I was able to talk to people was the Great British Booze-up. Although the venue proprietor deemed LOUD BACKGROUND MUSIC an essential part of the experience, we were all in the back yard where the NOISE just dispersed into the air, and conversations were actually possible.

Most other parties, though, were inside, and this made conversation quite impossible for me. That's sad, in a way, because I'm sure I missed quite a few interesting talks and discussions. On the other hand, even if I had been at the party I would've missed the talks and discussions anyway because I couldn't have made them out.

Fortunately the idea of doing away with the BACKGROUND DRONE is getting some support. Andy Budd brought it up first, and when I talked to her on Wednesday Ms. Jen said she, too, was going to take steps to counter this problem.

I assume I'm speaking for them too when I ask conference organisers if it's possible to do something about this problem? Would it be a huge culture shock if there were simply no music at all during post-conference parties? Would that offend someone? Would leaving out the DRONING BACKGROUND NOISE make organising these parties more expensive? I, for one, would welcome it with open arms because it would mean I could actually go to parties.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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1 Posted by Chris on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I hate most pubs for that reason. I used to visit one where they would literally set up a pair of loudspeakers and a DJ infront of us, blasting out enough volume that I might as well have been at a club. Plus it's often the same kind of music, isn't it? And does it need to be so loud?

I find conversation much harder over loud music. Unless you're someone with a high voice, such as a girl, it's harder to make yourself heard. So I go quiet and say as little as possible.

The best places to go are where there is no music at all. Everyone can enjoy full conversations then.

2 Posted by Chris on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

Seems you're not alone:

"To everyone I talked with, people love going to these parties, but they all find them much too loud. I wonder why they always have to turn up the volume so loud that you can hardly talk to each other."


3 Posted by Jeremy Keith on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

Yeah, I was really glad that the Great British Booze-up had enough space to include a non-music area. It's probably for that reason that I ended up having so much fun: it was the one time when I felt I could really talk with people over some beers. Frankly, that's the whole reason for going to SXSW in the first place.

I can understand loud music at the late-night parties where the idea is to get people dancing but I think that at the early-evening gatherings, good company, good food and good beer is desired.

4 Posted by Michael Moncur on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

Wow! I've been complaining about this for years and I thought I must just be too old or something.

My wife and I skipped all of the parties this year for just that reason, preferring a quiet dinner with a few interesting people instead.

I tried very hard to enjoy the parties in previous years, and it just didn't work. I think I must have your "cocktail party deafness" too, as I was only able to understand a few words while other people seemed able to carry on a conversation.

If absolutely nothing else, we should set up an unofficial quiet party or two for next year...

5 Posted by Jamie on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

The reason they play loud music is simple - if you can't talk, you drink. More money for the bar!

6 Posted by Ingo Chao on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

There are ear plugs available with a spectrum of absorbed frequencies that allow for listening to normal speech.

I mean, just in case the bar owners do not listen to your suggestion to reduce the sound pollution.

7 Posted by Tijs on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

That's an actual known hearing impediment? I have the same problem, good call to make this an item of discussion.

8 Posted by ppk on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

@Ingo: ear plugs are a workaround. The basic problem is the MUSIC that's BLARING ON while there's no need for it.

Glad to see that so many people agree with me.

9 Posted by Shawn Lauriat on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I wish I had the ability to make it out that Thursday to meet you - we would have got along just fine...

10 Posted by Scott Cadillac on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

Protect yourself, you did the right thing.

I'm sure I'm not the only programmer with Tinnitus, and therefore can't physically withstand the volume anymore - this issue will keep me away from such events forever.

I used to like going to conferences...

11 Posted by Ryan Joy on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I concur. It is incredibly difficult to talk to people at these things. I found myself STAYING in the smoking areas just because they were outside of the club, or in the case of the opening night party, on the roof where the music did not reach. I too had the most enjoyable conversations at the Great British Booze-up. As if it hasn't been said before, bravo guys!

12 Posted by Eric Meyer on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I couldn't agree more, and I too skipped most social events except for the Booze-Up and South by Northwest, which wasn't bad if you were up on the roof patio. Assuming you could find six square inches into which to squeeze yourself up there, that is.

I've long wanted to get a universal mute device like the universal TV on/off gadgets, or at least a very focused EMP weapon that can short out club speakers. I'd go with simple wire cutters but a lot of clubs put their speakers up too high to reach.

Maybe next year we can pool our resources to set up a big party which is specifically promoted as being conversation-friendly. Or else get a few parties to do so. No music + good food = great time, as the Brits proved. Who else will take up that winning formula?

13 Posted by pauldwaite on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I'm with ya. Music for dancing. Otherwise, I'd like to hear people.

I think I must have a little of that cocktail-party deafness. Or maybe I'm just bad at body-language and lip-reading.

14 Posted by Roger Johansson on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

I have never been to SxSW, but I agree fully. I had the same complaint about the parties at @media last year (and the year before). Loud music sucks and just makes me want to leave.

15 Posted by Ed Eliot on 19 March 2007 | Permalink

Nice to hear so many other people feel the same - I frankly thought the noise at some of the parties was painful. I'm not too big on the drinking scene either - some decent food and the chance to talk is definitely preferable.

16 Posted by Martin Sutherland on 20 March 2007 | Permalink

@Thijs: Yes, it is a recognized condition. When I was diagnosed with it about ten years ago, it was known mainly as "Obscure Auditory Dysfunction". It also goes by the name of "King-Kopetzky Syndrome"; more recently the term "Audio Processing Disorder" seems to be growing in popularity.

For a long time, there was hardly any information about it on the web, but if you Google for it now, you'll find plenty of background. Essentially, sufferers have normal hearing under quiet conditions, but we have much more trouble differentiating between sounds when background noise is introduced. The thinking is that it's a neurological problem rather than a something wrong with the ear itself.

17 Posted by ppk on 20 March 2007 | Permalink

@Martin: Ten years ago I had some kind of university course that briefly mentioned cocktail party deafness (that's how they called it). The example they gave was sufficient to diagnose myself.

In my case it definitely comes from using a Walkman too long in my early twenties, and it's definitely not neurological.
(For my younger readers: a Walkman is a kind of prehistoric iPod old people used to use back in the eighties and nineties)

@Eric: Setting up a no-music party sounds wonderful. I'm all in favour. Let's try to do something for the next SxSW.

18 Posted by Myself on 20 March 2007 | Permalink

I think it's because my parents didn't run a radio or TV 24/7 when I was little, so my developing brain didn't get much practice at separating the wheat from the chaff. It's sad that this is a "disorder" instead of simply assuming that people can't hear over deliberately loud noise.

I refer to such audio setups as "jammers", because they prevent normal conversation from occurring. The choice of phrase seems to explain itself, and people generally turn down the volume when I ask in that way.

19 Posted by Richard Rutter on 20 March 2007 | Permalink

Glad you approved of the music volume at the GB Booze-up, PPK. We set the volume ourselves for the very reasons you state - we wanted conversation to be possible.

We also wanted the music (all British bands by the way) to play a part in the experience so it wasn't completely quiet - in fact it was quite loud inside, as you implied. That said, it still wasn't too loud, so that even standing underneath a speaker, a group of people could still have a conversation (I know cos I did - a conversation about the music - perfect!)

20 Posted by Johan on 20 March 2007 | Permalink

This is so very true. Living in the fast lane tends to be LOUD as well. Actually I love the feel of subbass (dub sound system) or loud guitars (Shellac) but I cannot grasp that people today are so acustomed to hectic and loud ALL THE TIME. There is life beside the factory people.

People should read more, that is quiet stuff.

21 Posted by Ms. Jen on 9 April 2007 | Permalink

Yes, let's pool resources and rent some space for a Quiet Party.

As I talked to folks on Wednesday, I would like to throw an alternative Tuesday evening "Lounge" party somewhere where there is good food/drink and even better couches/sitting spaces. The idea would be to allow folks to sit down and have an opportunity to talk.

To keep wit the theme any and all music would be very low and lounge/exotica.

Any suggestions on a venue?

22 Posted by ppk on 11 April 2007 | Permalink

Sounds great to me, although we cuuld leave out the lounge/exotica, as far as I'm concerned.

I don't know Austin well enough to propose venues, but I don't think they'd be hard to find.