• DJ Secrets: Avoid Sound Limiters

     

     

    As a result of a couple of recent incidents involving Sound Limiters this blog contains some essential advice for brides and grooms planning their evening entertainment.

    ALWAYS ASK YOUR VENUE UPFRONT WHETHER THEY HAVE A SOUND LIMITER INSTALLED 

     

    I am frequently finding that venues are not mentioning them to my clients/or myself until very late in the planning process (if at all) that there is a sound limiter or a sound compression system installed.
    In a recent experience at a £70,000 wedding venue I wasn’t told about their sound limiter until the bride and groom were about to take their first dance as a married couple. During the first dance at this venue my power was literally a second away from cutting out as a result of the guests cheering during a choreographed routine, not an acceptable situation during a once in a lifetime experience for a bride and groom. About an hour later it cut out during a Pitbull song because everyone started singing …the groom wasn’t best pleased as the party was in full flow with a packed dance floor, there was then a period of disruption and I had no choice but to let everyone know that the limiter was cutting my power as a result of singing.

     

    WHY DO VENUES HAVE SOUND LIMITERS ?
    Limiters are usually installed for the following reasons

     

    Residential – Venues that are in residential areas have a duty to keep any noise to a reasonable level.
    Health & Safety ? – There isn’t any legal requirement to protect guests from loud noises as they are at the party voluntarily.
    Other – The venue want to keep the noise down for other residential guests (if in a hotel) or simply want to have control over DJ’s and Bands that play there. There have been a number of situations I have experienced where the venue owner lived in a property adjacent to the venue and didn’t want to be disturbed by weddings taking place at his venue. My feeling is that the client should be told “no bands or dj’s” rather than installing a sound limiter that can damage performers equipment and ruin the flow of a very good party.

     

    WHAT’S THE LEVEL OF A SOUND LIMITER SET TO ?
    I have found that on average they range between 80-90 decibels (db), sometimes higher and sometimes lower, some venues also use sound compression systems that they require a DJ or Bands to plug into. A normal party would register between 100-120 db.

     

    HOW LOUD IS 80-90 Decibels
    Not very loud at all, you’d be lucky to hear it at the front door of most venues. Check out the decibel comparison chart below which is produced by one of the UK’s largest and most successful entertainment agencies, it shows what kind of sound levels certain activities produce. Choice Entertainment fully credits the Alive Network for this chart.

     

     

    WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS & REPERCUSSIONS OF A SOUND LIMITER ?

     

    1. They are set too low – In my experience they are generally set lower than what is reasonable for a DJ or band to work with. I understand the logic behind a venue operating a sound limiter in the right situation but not when the location of the venue is set in total isolation.

     

    2. System Installation – There is never a guarantee that the limiter has been correctly installed, maintained or operated by someone qualified in sound engineering.

     

    3. Inconvenient & Disruptive – They are inconveniencing for everyone, can disrupt the flow of a great party after the performer has worked hard to create the atmosphere and often need resetting afterwards. If a member of staff is not in the immediate vicinity to reset the sound limiter then this can mean the power is off for an indeterminate amount of time. If the limiter keeps tripping then you will see how this turns into a quite farcical and damaging exercise to the party and a performers equipment.

     

    4. It’s Not Our Fault – Until the audience are aware of what we are trying to work with they will always assume that its the fault of the performer. Going from playing a song to total silence in a split second will result in 100-200 confused faces staring at us assuming that our equipment has failed or we’ve done something wrong.

     

    5. Mood & Atmosphere – Sound limiters will affect the mood that DJ’s, bands and clients are trying to create – the atmosphere will essentially be dulled

     

    6. Damage to equipment – Sound limiters can, and will damage expensive equipment. PA’s, amplifiers and mixers require an uninterrupted supply of power and to be switched off in a specific way. The fuses and valves in equipment can be damaged when suddenly powered off and on again, speakers can blow too as a result of signal spikes when the limiter kicks in.

     

    7. “We have DJ’s and bands here all the time and there’s never a problem” – I hear this all the time, not said to just me but also the client/organiser. We would not imply for one minute that venues are telling you a deliberate untruth, but we would advise you to take this with a pinch of salt. For example at one venue a member of security told me, “the power went off”10 times last week”, when I spoke to the co-ordinator she said it hadn’t gone off at all. You have to bear in mind that no venue is going to want to put you off booking their environment and services by stating their noise policy doesn’t allow anything louder than a vacuum cleaner at your party. No sound limiter sit’s there and doesn’t function, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. At some point during a performance it is going to come into effect, saying “there’s never a problem” isn’t enough in my opinion to confirm that there won’t be a problem.

     

    8. It affects performance –  You may have booked me because you saw me at someone else’s party and were impressed by the excellent EV sound system I use and wanted me to creating the same sound environment. Due to the “traffic light” system on a sound limiter, it means that the sound will be affected and I will have no choice other than to spend the whole night watching a box on the wall rather than focus on performance and the dance floor.

     

    9. Some Sound Limiters are effected by peoples voices – Considering the purpose of a sound limiter is to control the amount of bass that leaves a venue – some sound limiters are actually cutting out the music when the guests sing and shout (this has nothing to do with the bass at all), this is usually because the microphone is hanging above or around the dance floor. As a performer you can control your music levels to stay within the boundaries of the limiter, but unfortunately you can’t control the crowds voices and it proves for a very frustrating time. DJs & Bands are there to entertain and concentrate on what we have been paid to do

     

    HOW CAN I HELP IF YOUR VENUE HAS A SOUND LIMITER

     

    DISCUSS IT’S PURPOSE
    I am happy to talk to a venue about it’s sound limitation policies to ensure mutual compatability. For example we have found at some venues it may be the case that you have exclusivity, meaning that in theory there are no non-wedding guests to affect with noise. In that situation a limiter is unnecessary.

     

    DAMPEN THE SOUND DOWN
    Sometimes I can employ various tactics to minimise sound when a limiter is in operation. For example I can eliminate the bass from the set up, although this wouldn’t sound particularly good it would give more of a chance of avoiding a power cut. In the event of a venues sound limiter tripping the power as a result of guests voices, we could temporarily lower the volume to discourage singing although there is no guarantee that the guests will actually stop singing before the limiter trips the power.

     

    4 Comments

    • Scott Wilson

      Hi there Phil,superb blog and could relate to everything you mentioned in your condemnation of sound limiters.
      One of the requirements on my booking form is to inform us of any sound limitation devices installed at any prospective venues but I’m sure some people don’t bother reading all the small print.
      Totally with you on your point about having to watch the lights on a sound limiter all night to which I find very distracting and deduces my personal level of enjoyment.
      I have often in the past bypassed the limiter and plugged into a socket not affected by the sound limiter .
      I know this doesn’t sound very professional but from my point of view and more importantly the guests overal enjoyment,I adhere to this “policy” at times to ensure a steady flow of enjoyment and dance floor participation.
      Have you ever bypassed limiters Phil just out of interest ???
      Anyway great blogg by the way regards Scott

      • Reply
      • August 16, 2014, 10:44 am

      • DJ Phil Webster

        Thanks for your feedback on this article Scott.

        As time goes on this is becoming more of a problem to a point where some venues simply shouldn’t be taking peoples cash as they can’t offer the entertainment experience the customer deserves.

        We have plugged into alternative sockets on occasions (usually with the support of the venue staff themselves, as they agree its a problem), however other than that I’m not aware of any way of bypassing a system although i’ve heard some people suggest that cotton wool and sometimes even a 50p piece over the mic can have a slight effect. Maybe you could share some info for us if you have discovered any tips over the past few years

        • Reply
        • June 5, 2017, 4:43 pm

    • Don Tregartha

      Just come back from a gig last night where we had 4 trip outs from a limiter. We’re a Soul/Funk/Disco band – loud, but not insane. But when you get the audience singing and chanting (kind what we are there for!!) – Bang, off goes the stage.
      This was in a town centre pub for crying out loud – the place vans trolling up and down the street made more noise.

      • Reply
      • September 4, 2016, 4:58 pm

      • DJ Phil Webster

        Its exceptionally frustrating in this industry when our expensive tools are put at risk by these sometimes senseless devices …and unacceptable for clients who have paid good money to celebrate their special events who are being denied a real entertainment experience that they deserve. Any potential clients reading this who value the entertainment aspect of their event should carefully consider when choosing a venue, our advice regarding the issue of sound limitation is to ask the venue before you book as its usually in the small print to draw attention away from it. 3 weeks ago we “endured” the worst limiter we have ever come across at a hotel where just a tap on the wall put the limiter into the red, we believe it may of been set to around 60DB as normal conversation could be heard on the other side of the dance floor ! The staff say its installed because the hotel has a room directly above, clearly this venue should not be hosting entertainment as it makes for an unacceptable and incredibly frustrating experience …not only ourselves but for the wedding party themselves who had booked us. A 12pm curfew on sound up to 120DB should be acceptable maybe 11pm in village locations, if the venue is a hotel it should be made clear to guests that they host entertainment. One of the most ridiculous aspects of sound limitation is that guests can inadvertently trip the limiter purely from singing, we are there to encourage a good time not dampen it.

        • Reply
        • June 5, 2017, 4:33 pm

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