Sound Limiters and Associated Problems
Why do venues have sound limiters?
Limiters are usually in place for common sense reasons:
Environmental - Where venues are near residential properties, they have a duty to keep any noise (usually measured at a residential property’s boundary) to a reasonable level. In rare cases the venue may also have been instructed by the local authority to have one.
Health and Safety - There isn’t yet any legal requirement to protect customers or party guests, who are there voluntarily, from loud noises, but there is a requirement for employers to protect employees and contractors.
Other reasons - The venue want to keep noise down for other resident guests or simply just want to have greater control over the bands that play there. One case we had was where the venue owner lived in a neighbouring house and wanted to not be disturbed by weddings taking place in his barn. This is fair enough, but then perhaps live rock bands aren’t the best thing to have at this particular venue.
What level are they usually set to?
In most cases that we have found sound limiters are set to between 80-90 decibels (db). This is an average based purely on our experience and you may find yours is set higher or in some cases, believe it or not, lower. Most live amplified rock & pop gigs register at between 100 and 115db. Acoustic drums kits alone can easily register 105 – 110db.
80-90db might not sound like much less than 100dB, but in fact the decibel scale isn’t a straight line. For example 110db actually sounds almost twice as loud as 100db, NOT a “tenth” louder.
How loud is 80-90db?
It’s really not very loud at all, and in our opinion too quiet an environment to host a live band. Please see diagram for some comparisons:-
So what’s the problem with sound limiters and live bands?
Unfortunately there are a few issues that sound limiters can cause, here is a summary:
They are set too low – In our experience they are generally set lower than what is reasonable for a live band to work with. We fully understand and respect the logic behind a venue operating a sound limiter, but the reality is anything below 95db is too low for a party band and we would have to expect issues to arise.
System Installation - There is never a guarantee that the limiter has been correctly installed, or that it is being operated by someone qualified in sound engineering. The system must be correctly installed, maintained and operated for anyone to have total confidence that everything is being measured fairly and correctly.
Inconvenience – Not only are sound limiters inconveniencing for everyone they often need manual resetting by a person after tripping. If said person is not in the immediate vicinity then this can mean the power is off for an indeterminate amount of time. If the limiter keeps tripping then you can see how this can begin to turn into quite a ridiculous exercise.
They think it’s us! - The audience will always assume the band have messed up! To go from a live band playing a party track to total silence in a fraction of a second often in results in 150 confused faces staring at us in the assumption that our equipment has failed or we’ve done something wrong.
Mood and Atmosphere – In our opinion sound limiters tend to adversely affect the mood that you and we will be trying to create at your wedding by essentially “dulling” the atmosphere.
Damage to band equipment – Sound limiters can, and do, damage expensive band equipment. PA’s, amplifiers and mixing desks require an uninterrupted supply of power and to be switched on and off in the correct manner. The fuses and valves in our equipment can be damaged when suddenly powered off and on again, speakers can pop and blow too as a result of signal spikes when the limiter kicks in.
“We have bands here all the time and there’s never a problem”
This is something we hear venues say all the time, not just to us but to you too, but we urge you to take this statement with a pinch of salt. We would not suggest for one second that venues would state a deliberate untruth, but you have to bear in mind that no venue is going to want to willingly deter you from booking their building and services, certainly by stating their noise policy doesn’t allow anything louder than a dishwasher at your wedding party. In addition bands vary, a small jazz trio is not going to produce the same amount of volume as a 5 piece party rock band. Lastly, no sound limiter sits there and doesn’t do anything, otherwise why have one? They have to at some point come into effect during live performances, saying “there’s never a problem” isn’t enough in our view to confirm that we won’t have a problem.
It can affect the band’s performance
We certainly find it very difficult performing the same volume as let’s say, a vacuum cleaner (80db). We are a live band and you may well have booked us because you saw us performing in a way that you wanted to have at your wedding. Due to the “traffic light” system limiters work on it tends to mean is that the band spend all night watching the traffic lights (if they can be seen) in an effort to keep the red light from coming on, rather than focusing on their performance and the dance floor.
They can affect your ability to enjoy your own wedding party, and we’re not cool with that! - We have heard many horror stories of sound limiters affecting the band’s ability to perform resulting in the constant stop-starting of music, circuit resets, audience confusion etc. We are not divas and we do not care to be selfish or play at ridiculous volumes, but we do expect to be able to deliver what you have paid for and asked us to do. Sound limiters can, in some cases, make this virtually impossible.
How we can help if your venue has a sound limiter.
Negotiate its use
Prior to quoting and booking we are happy to talk to your venue about their sound limitation policies to ensure our mutual compatibility, we have done so before and been successful in finding a compromise where required. For example at some weddings it may be the case that the wedding party have booked out the vast majority (if not all) of the venue’s accommodation meaning, that in theory, there are no other non-wedding guests to affect with noise. Therefore a limiter would seem unnecessary. As long as you let us know that there is a limiter we will do all we can beforehand to ensure it doesn’t cause you or us any problems on the day.
Dampen the band down
We will also employ various tactics to minimise our peak volume impact where limiters are in operation. We have many ways of reducing sound impact without having to drastically affect the overall quality of sound.
Use our experience and common sense!
Ed Zachary Band and practically all other bands, do not have any desire to play at uncomfortably high volumes, we want our clients and audiences to enjoy every aspect of our performance, it is in our interest to play at an acceptable volume level for the room and the event overall. We are experienced performers and have the ability to set acceptable sound levels which encourage the right atmosphere without shattering the ears of others. In our experience, band members can dictate sensible sound levels simply by using their common sense, an ability which does not, unfortunately, always apply to sound limiters.