Dealing With Neighbors Who Just Aren't Into Your Music
One of the toughest things to deal with as a musician are noise complaints. Always remember that one person's music is another person's noise. Also, sound travels in the strangest of ways, bass especially.
While in Japan, I lived across the street from a taiko studio. I'd hear the thunderous drumming first thing on Sunday morning, and actually loved it. But the second I'd go to make my music... well that was a different story. The upstairs neighbor would be pounding on the window, and that was frightening.
And when I ran my club, I had to deal with countless visits from the cops.
This leads to a number of perplexing questions, including the consequences of a neighbor complaining. It is definitely unnerving. You wonder: Am I in danger of being evicted? Likewise, you wonder about your rights to play music at reasonable hours.
Now, let me be clear about things. I am not a lawyer, and you should definitely discuss any problem with the appropriate professional. That said, as a musician and club owner turned real estate agent, I can definitely offer a musician turned real estate agent's perspective. (Repeat: This is not legal advice.)
So... my worldly wisdom. First: practice diplomacy at all stages of the game.
When looking for an apartment, don't be afraid to put your music on the table upfront. Explain what you do, when you do it, and ask if it is going to be a problem. In the case of a smaller landlord, you may actually be able to work out a plan in advance. As an example, we have an agreement with our landlord that we're allowed to make as much noise as we want in the daytime after 11:00 AM. My wife (who's an opera singer), is also allowed to use a storage room in the basement for vocal warm-ups in emergency situations. (The landlord was going to charge us for it as first, but we were such good tenants, he threw it in for us when we renewed our lease!)
When I move into a new apartment, one of the first things I do is leave a note for the neighbors. It says, "Hi! I'm your new neighbor. I'm so happy to move into this building. I just wanted you to know that my wife and I are professional musicians, but don't worry, we try not to make so much noise give or take a little daytime practice. I'm attaching a copy of my card and my cell number. Please feel free to contact us at any time."
This accomplishes two goals: First, it lets your neighbor no that you're a human being. In humanizing yourself, you may very well be humanizing the noise you make, and the neighbor might even be tolerant, or (as in one case) become good friends(!) I literally became pen pals with my upstairs neighbor (who I never met) all through the pandemic, and (as a joke) he was even leaving requests by our door(!)
Second, it encourages the neighbor to contact YOU, not the landlord (or management company) if there's a problem. That's far less embarrassing.
It allows you to negotiate as well as work things out, even though it's not always that simple. For example, sometimes its just a matter of negotiating time, other times, just changing the location of your instrument or positioning of a speaker may help. You never know!
I call this being pro-actively diplomatic.
Finally, be considerate and don't push limits. Don't move in then have an all night rock and rolling party on day one. Establish a grace period, then test the waters. At best, if you do get a call from the landlord you can say something like, "Oh, that's strange. I've been here a month, and haven't gotten any complaints until now. OK, I'll be more careful, but please ask the person to call me so I can figure out what's going on." Be polite... be apologetic, and remember, some people complain because they have a right to peace and quiet now and then, others are lonely and just need attention. Always de-escalate.
In the end, my personal rules are as follows:
Follow these rules, and you may actually be able to get away with MORE in the long term... and that's a win-win situation!
Tips on Apartment Hunting As a Gig Based Worker
Learn about NOISE COMPLAINTS and how they work in NYC here.
Find FREE LEGAL HOTLINES here.