The Sound and The Fury

What Patrons See and Hear Can Light Up Sales and Be Music to Your Registers

There are two basic elements to any nightlife room: sound and lighting. Whether it’s the most hopping club in Las Vegas or a dive bar in Des Moines, Iowa, those vital facets can make or break a venue. People will always find a place to imbibe, but the proper addition of booming bass or flickering LEDs can turn a room of people drinking into a proper party. With innovative sensory gadgets hitting the market faster than ever before, there is a staggering amount of options at an operator’s disposal.

Purchasing the perfect setup means understanding what your venue’s ethos is, what its technical needs are and how to best meet them while remaining fiscally prudent. With respect to lighting, bars are now finding themselves able to enter the club realm of standards, given a steep decrease in product pricing.

Hudson Terrace
For NYC’s Hudson Terrace, a projector shoots video on the building next door, an effect that wows patrons and passersby.

“Lasers and LED systems are becoming cheaper, thanks to an influx of Chinese import companies,” says Jack Kelly, an entertainment technology designer from Charlotte, N.C.’s Eye Dialogue Lighting and Sound. “Things previously too expensive are now easier to do in bars and smaller venues. A full color laser used to run you $10,000. Now, you can pick them up for less than $2,500. And the built-in programs are very slick. Bars across middle America are snapping them up and using them to control the colors and mood in the room,” Kelly says.

Bars don’t have to necessarily resort to a system of LED lights to stay modern, however, particularly when house lights on a pre-programmed pattern will handily suffice. At The Chandelier Room at the W Hotel in Hoboken, N.J., the bar’s lighting has three presets, explains Eric Marx, director of operations for EMM Group, which operates the venue. “We have it scheduled so that as the sun goes down, the level of lighting simultaneously lowers. It becomes much more ambient and intimate, and the guests really seem to enjoy the feeling,” Marx says. “The feedback has been great. A lot of them don’t even notice at first; it’s not a drastic transition.”

Hudson TerraceAnother growing sector in the visual aid department is video. At Hudson Terrace, an upscale rooftop club in Manhattan, the projector setup is among the most creative around. “We use a High End DL.2 projector to shoot our video onto the front of a building across the street,” says Jed Bataille, technical director for Disco Sushi, owners of Hudson Terrace. “We painted the building black and we have a 30’ by 60’ area to project on.

We can do anything from displaying photo booth snaps to showing DVDs to streaming fashion shows or even playing Xbox. The finished effect is amazing, and it’s so large, you can see it from the West Side Highway,” Bataille laughs. An effect such as this will set you back more than $10,000 for the projector, in addition to whatever it will cost to paint your neighbor’s building.

As for moving head fixtures in clubs, the latest and greatest award could go to a new European company called Chauvet. With fixtures ranging from $300 to $20,000 per unit, the company prides itself on service. “We had a set of Chauvet lights for about a year that just weren’t fitting the bill for the space on our Salon level at the club,” Bataille says. “The company not only replaced them, but they upgraded us to the newer models at cost, which ended up costing us next to nothing. We were thrilled with how well they handled the issue and helped us.”

In the acoustic department, it’s all about sound quality. EMM Group’s Simyone Lounge (SL) in New York’s Meatpacking District shelled out more than $150,000 for a Martin Audio system and McIntosh amplifiers. “It’s similar to what they have at Ministry of Sound in London,” Marx says.

SL in New York uses ambient lighting and pristine sound systems to set the mood.

Chief among considerations in purchasing speakers is a warm sound. “That means it’s crisp and loud; with a punch but without killing your eardrums,” shares Marx. “You know when you put on a pair of Apple headphones with your iPod and then you put on a pair of Bose headphones? You can instantly tell the difference. We’re going for that Bose feeling on a gigantic scale.”

With a nightclub, installation of a sound system isn’t the trickiest portion of the equation, though the wiring is a very time consuming job, depending on the size of your space. “You have to run leads all the way to the amp, which can take a while,” says Marx. The key to pristine audio is the tuning. “You have to test it extensively. Play all your different genres and tweak the equalizer to maximize each genre. Then you have to fill the room and test it again because the sound is always different with bodies in the venue,” he explains.

The Chandelier Room
At The Chandelier Room, the lighting system has three presets that lower when the sun goes down, creating intimate moments for guests.

Bars can certainly fork over hundreds of thousands to elite audio companies to drop in their finest wares, but it’s not always a necessity. A simple matrix switcher, a DJ turntable unit and/or the ability to input a computer are the requisite fundamentals. (Admittedly, your bar’s speakers should be able to adequately handle the wattage running through them and be powerful enough to properly fill, yet not overwhelm, the space.) Bars can easily create custom playlists for different nights, thus foregoing the DJ for several nights of operation. They can even relinquish control of the music directly to the patrons via digital jukeboxes from companies such as TouchTunes or Rock-Ola. 

At The ChanThe Chandelier Roomdelier Room, both DJs and in-house play lists are used. Thursday through Saturday, someone mans the turntables, while the rest of the week a computer takes over. “Music there is meant to be background, so we don’t need a high-end amp and that powerful of an output because it’s not meant to be that loud,” says Marx. “We do make sure that there’s multiple zone control, so that we can turn up the music on the deck, or turn it down by the bar.”

As with lighting, servicing your audio equipment — however fancy or low end — is a must. Every three months, you should check the speakers to make sure nothing’s blown, each high, mid and low cone is playing at it’s maximum, clean the amps, retune the system and make sure you’re still getting the most bang for your invested buck. “It’s like checking the oil in your car,” Marx surmises. “The more often you can do it, the better.”

Though at times subtle to your patrons, sound and lighting can make or break your establishment. The music, the video or other special elements and the orchestration of the lighting system are all part of creating a successful, go-to destination. NCB

Lighten Up & Sound Reasonable

Need help getting specific on which audio and visual equipment to select? Let the experts shed some light and sound off on the matter.

“Pioneer Electronics just released a sneak peek of a new DJ deck,” says Ray Ford of Ford Management systems, a beverage, promotions and entertainment consultant.“Traktor Pro is the industry DJ software of choice. Couple that with a sleek new dual player with a ton of slick bells and whistles and the Pioneer DDJ-T1 is the new ‘must have’ deck system for any bar or club,” says Ford. At around $1,300, Pioneer’s latest is affordable for every venue, and the plug-and-play capability with any computer means even novices can get it running quickly. Furthermore, the controller places the laptop’s keyboard directly beneath the board, meaning the monitor is closer to the DJ — a feature many spinners will tell you is a serious bonus.

“Ashly Audio makes a digital matrix, called the Protea 24.24 model, which I absolutely love,” Jack Kelly, from Charlotte, N.C.’s, Eye Dialogue Lighting and Sound says. “For less than $2,000, you get 20 outputs, which is perfect for either a simple or a complicated set up.” Say you have a main dance floor with subwoofers. That’s one input per side and three subwoofer inputs. But you also have a VIP room, which you want in stereo. “That’s two more inputs,” says Kelly. “Add in your bar, and your bathrooms and more and, with the Protea, you’d still have leftover outputs. One unit will easily handle all of this.”

 “Most places are trying to move away from hanging light fixtures,” Jed Bataille, technical director of Disco Sushi explains. “We use Shogun moving heads at Hudson Terrace [in New York] and two of them will light the entire space on their own. Apartment buildings four blocks away have complained about these lights shining in their windows at night,” he laughs. While they may be more than capable of solely supplying your lighting needs, a duo of Shogun units will set you back close to $50,000.

Shogun also makes a series of cheaper moving head lasers and LED devices, such as the Mini Max LED series, which can cost less than $1,000 per piece. “The beauty about LED is you can wash the room in any color, which is great for corporate events,” says Bataille. “We did an event for General Electric and used the lights to bathe the room in white and blue to match their logo.” During regular nights, use the movement and ability to change the colors on a whim to frantically build the energy in the room. “You can make an LED light do everything from a blacklight effect to strobe,” says Bataille. “And the room always instantly responds.”

Suggested Articles

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.

The list has extended to several states and even more counties as COVID-19 cases rise.

The latest data shows U.S. jobless claims at 1.5 million, a small decrease from the previous week.