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Noise Limiters

Picture in your head a musician. No, wait. A rock musician.

Thats right, they’re probably male, drunk and gallivanting through life on a motorbike with a guitar in one hand, a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth.

And they like to play LOUD.

While I’m sure, as they say, there is no smoke without fire, most modern (working) musicians do not hold to this stereotype. There is, however, a regular communication between bands and venues regarding volume. This is important. The venue can’t have live music the loudness of which impedes on the evening of every local resident within a mile radius. But by the same token the guests can’t have music which is so quiet its impossible to dance and enjoy themselves, the band have to be able to fulfil their job.

Many venues have issues with complaints to the council regarding noise problems. This often results in the council giving the venue an ultimatum whereby if the venue cannot restrict and control their sound at a certain level they will lose their license. In a lot of cases this is when a ‘Noise-Limiter’ is installed. Noise-limiters are electronic boxes which listen to the volume of a room and will cut electricity to the stage area when a certain level is reached and sustained. In theory, and mostly in practice, this works perfectly. The limiter is set to a level where the band can perform comfortably below it and the night runs without a hitch. Occasionally, and I mean very occasionally, the limiter is set to a point where it becomes near untenable for us to do our job.

There are some elements in a band which have a volume control (guitars, vocals etc) but live drums do not. Although a good drummer can deliver a great set whilst controlling their dynamics (loudness) the drum kit is inherently acoustic and will always be a certain volume. I’ve been on many gigs where noise-limiters have had a debilitating affect on the night with the power to the stage cutting out tens of times during a set plunging the room into silence (and often darkness!). My slightly sinister worry is that some venues have had their limit set too low by the council to viably host live music but accept this and continue to advertise the venue as able to do so. The inconvenience of this very regular occurrence faced by clients is offset by the business being so lucrative. In any case, its those pesky rock musicians who take the flak on the day.

I would like to take this opportunity to educate and guide couples who are in the midst of booking venues and bands on what to look out for and a few key questions to ask any prospective venues.

  • Is there a noise limiter here?

  • If so, do you have regular troubles with it setting off?

  • What decibel level is it set to?

Decibel levels, also known as ‘DB’, are how we measure volume. I would personally recommend being wary of any limiter set under 90db as it would impair on the performance we are being paid to deliver. Heres a little table showing roughly how db’s equate to everyday sources:

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