DJ Mineh Ishida

Will Sound Ruin Your West Coast Swing Event?

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We’ve all experienced bad quality audio and music at one west coast swing event or another. That subtle feeling that we just can’t dance to the music anymore due to annoyance, or that the music is booming and painful to listen to. Whether volume levels were wrong, equipment was poorly setup, bad quality song files or bad equipment somewhere in the digital to analog conversion (make mp3 into sound), the effects of listener fatigue can be disastrous to your west coast swing event.

Event directors and DJs aren’t the only ones interested in this phenomenon. Broadcasters, cell phone manufacturers, and all manners of audio engineers pay very close attention to listener fatigue and it’s effects on audience retention. In fact, in 2011 the AES (Audio Engineer Society) assembled a panel to discuss just this topic for professional audio engineers from all over the world. Why does this affect you?

As an event director, it is up to you to determine how your audio equipment will be setup. The quality of the audio at your swing event directly relates to the length of time people can dance without suffering from audio fatigue. Read that again. The quality of audio relates directly to how long people can dance. The effect of this is compounded with age. As we age, our tolerance for high SPL (sound pressure levels roughly translates to volume) drops. Compound that with poor quality audio signals and listener fatigue increases dramatically. So do you want people talking about how the dancing went to morning? or how your event was dead at 1am?

At a local event I DJ at, we were receiving an inordinate number of complaints about the music. People complained that the music was too booming or too contemporary (We played a LOT of blues). That the songs were horrible, and many other unrelated complaints. I managed to talk the event coordinator to replace the home audio system that the event was using, and instantly, the complaints stopped. It turns out, the complaints weren’t about the music. They were about the quality of the music. People cannot tell you why they don’t like a song, but they definitely know when they don’t like it. Having quality sound alleviated all the complaints. In fact, we had someone write to us and thank us for upgrading the sound equipment. They realized that they in fact liked the songs when they heard them as they were meant to sound. Audio quality is such a subtle thing that we don’t notice when we don’t have it, but we definitely feel its effects. It makes us dislike songs that we like. Heres an experiment. Take your favorite song. Put it on a tiny underpowered speaker. Turn the volume all the way up. Do you like how it sounds? Neither will anyone else.

Fact is while many pro DJs do understand some of the basics of professional sound setup, most are woefully ignorant of anything regarding sound beyond the music and crowds they play for.

Even the most veteran DJs typically know the basics, but cannot match the wealth of knowledge that a trained professional audio engineer can. What can you do to ensure top quality sound, and as a result happy dancers?

1) Hire a professional. Get a sound engineer well versed in event audio. Make sure he understands PA systems for DANCE MUSIC. If his experience is in concerts for large groups of people, you know he understands PA systems and the effect of bodies on the sound system. If he has experience with ballroom, salsa, west coast swing or other partner dance events, even better. If you need a referral, I’ve worked with Alex Kosiorek in the past, and trust him implicitly. There are few in the business who knows their stuff better.

2) Hire DJs who understand sound quality.  The Djs at your west coast swing event should be aware of the general quality of the sound as they play.  They will monitor volume levels, and will make sure their song files, audio equipment, and the EQ of the board are properly setup for their music. Does your DJ have a professional audio interface? Does he/she understand how to work and troubleshoot a mixing board? Does he leave the booth to listen to the quality of his audio during his set?

3) Rent or buy the best audio reproduction equipment. Make sure your speakers, amps, mixers, etc are rated for the amount of area you want to cover. Remember that large ballrooms take different equipment than small halls, and that bodies soak up sound. A professional sound engineer can help you choose the right equipment.

4) Position your speakers properly. So many events I’ve attended have had their speakers setup wrong. This has more effect on sound quality than you can imagine. Sometime, sit in the DJ booth and listen to the music. You’ll find it sounds very different than it does on the floor. This is the result of speaker placement. Like a broken record: A pro sound engineer can help with this.

If the success of your west coast swing event is important to you, I implore you to consider hiring a sound engineer to work with you. When you do, you ensure that the music at your event will be clear, loud enough, and something that everyone can enjoy. Good music = happy dancers. Happy dancers = attendees next year and at your other events.

Ever experienced a really bad audio setup? How did it affect you? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author:

DJ Mineh Ishida is a west coast swing DJ living in Tampa, FL. He founded WestCoastSwingMusic.com in 2012 and is passionate about contributing to the West Coast Swing community through DJing and his work with this website. You can Find more information about DJ Mineh on the About Page. For booking Inquiries, please use this Contact Form.

  • twelvedancer

    Mineh,  well written, articulate, and very good points.