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 DJ 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.