We've seen it time and time again - people who book a venue for their wedding or event, then want to book live music and find out that there's a sound limiter in place that stops them having the band, and the party, they want. Sound limiters (or "Fun limiters" as a few musicians have been known to call them!) are a growing concern for people who play or love to listen to live music. An increasing number of venues are installing sound limiters in their functions rooms, either voluntarily after noise complaints from the neighbours or after being forced to by their local council. For most people organising an event, this will be the first you've heard of them, so we're going to talk you through what you need to know about these limiters.
So what is a sound limiter?
Sound limiters are special microphones fitted in venues that are able to measure the 'loudness' of the room. Loudness is measured in decibels (dbs). The limiters are set at a certain level, usually somewhere between 80 and 100db. If the microphone detects that the volume in the room exceeds this limit, the sound limiter kicks in and cuts the electricity supply that the band or DJ is using. There is then a period of time to wait until the electricity comes back - sometimes just 10 seconds, sometimes up to an hour if the limiter has gone off a few times.
The limiters usually operate on a traffic light system - a box placed somewhere that the musicians or DJ can see it which flashes green when the volume is well under the limit, orange as it approaches the limit and red if it is about to go over and cut off the electricity.
Some venues just have a mobile microphone that measures the volume at different points around the venue - for example outside if the neighbours have complained about noise. These do not cut of the electricity supply but enable the management to ask the band or DJ to turn down the volume if they read the level as too loud.
Why can sound limiters cause issues?
Simply put, it is impossible to know how a limiter is going to behave until a band or DJ is onsite at a venue with all their equipment. As most of them cut off the electricity to the PA if they are triggered, it can cause gaps in the music while they are re-set and could even mean your evening's entertainment is cut short. Two limiters set at the same level can behave totally differently depending on the acoustics in the room, where the mic is placed and how it has been set up - one might be fine for a band to play all night while the other is tripping every few minutes. The other thing that affects the "loudness" of the room is of course the crowd. Even if the band or DJ is playing pretty quietly, a loud cheer or lots of clapping could trigger the limiter.
What should I ask my venue about their sound limiter?
Once you have established that your venue has a sound limiter, it is important to know any entertainment acts you have at your event that there is one in place. Find out what level the limiter is set at and ask them what sort of acts they have had play there in the past and whether they set them off. If we are asked to play at a venue with a limiter we like to speak to the venue ourselves and find out as much as we can about it, often speaking to previous clients or other acts that have played there so we can build up a complete picture of the challenges it may present.
Why can't a band just turn down the volume?
When setting the levels of a band, everything is determined by how loud the unamplified drums are. This is dependant on the acoustics in the room - a high ceilinged, many windowed or stone room will be much louder than a carpeted, cosy room full of people. The only thing a drummer can do to reduce the noise of the kit is play on "soft sticks" or brushes - but this is a technique usually used for mellow music such as jazz and doesn't suit rock, pop or soul music as it lacks the drive and energy that this needs.
A live band's overall volume is therefore impossible to turn down like you can a sound system - everything feeds off each other and needs to be balanced correctly. Very few bands want to play loudly just for the sake of it and will endeavour to work within any limits set. There is, however, only so quietly that a live band can possibly play.
What acts do you recommend for different db limits?
We have had experience at working with different live music acts at different levels and these are our thoughts of what can work at the various limits. As we have said, each limiter and venue is different so these are only based on averages:
What do you suggest to avoid potential problems?
Here are our top tips on working round these issues:
- If you know you want live music at your event, speak to your venue early - preferably before booking - about their capacity to have live music. Do they have the space, do they have any sound limiters and do they have a maximum size of band they allow?
- If your venue does have a sound limiter, make sure you know what level it is set at and pass this on to any bands or DJs you are interested in booking. If possible, make sure they are aware of all limits before you finalise the booking.
- Speak to the venue about what size and style of bands they have had there in the past without any problems. Try and go for something similar so you know it has worked out before.
- If you have inadvertantly hired a venue that has a limiter set too low for a live band in the evening, think about including music earlier on in the event - a jazz trio for a drinks reception or solo singer during a wedding ceremony.
- Jazz and acoustic acts - anything more mellow and without drums played with drumsticks - are much more manageable acts to include in your event if the venue you have booked has a sound limiter set at a lower level.
- If you are going for a full band at a venue with a sound limiter, it's important that the band have a sound engineer with them to manage the sound levels throughout the evening, so the musicians can get on with what you've hired them for - playing great tunes!
What can The bb Collective offer?
Check out some of our acoustic acts - Fly Note, Bex Bennett and Bex Reichwald - perfect for venues with low sound limits. Picked Up is a four piece band as standard and can be offered with a cajon instead of a full drum set which significantly brings the volume of the band down. Our larger bands - Bombshell and Soul Sauce - always come out with an experience sound engineer who is used to working with sound limiters and will do everything possible to keep the bands within the limits set. Get in touch for more information on how we can help.