31 Aug Sound Limiters
When choosing a venue for your wedding or family celebration there’s a few things you need to be aware of before you book. Sound limiters and noise restrictions may be in place and you really do need to be aware of the potential problems. Some venues won’t mention them or the potential problems so please read on so you know everything will definitely be alright on the night.
In my profession there’s nothing worse than having to work with restrictions. Being told to keep the volume down even before setting up isn’t the best start to an evening and can make us entertainers feel about as welcome as a bad smell.
So instead of being told to keep it down – not that I need telling anyway – some venues are resorting to electronic sound limiters. These so-called ‘limiters’ are installed in venues where local residents have complained about the noise or hotels where staying guests have complained that the music is too loud.
They’re usually in the form of a little box in the corner of the room which monitors the decibels and bass frequencies. When they reach a certain threshold – usually around 95db – for a sustained period of time it cuts the electricity supply to the offending equipment and everything goes off. These limiters use a green and red light system – stay out of the red zone otherwise you face everything shutting down. This sudden drop in power can cause everyone in the audience to jump and can also send debilitating power surges damaging speakers, amplifiers and other electronic equipment, as I’ve unfortunately experienced in the past.
In principal, they’re supposed to regulate the general volume of a room but they’re not so kind when it comes to singers, especially male vocalists like myself with Baritone voices. Any sub-bass frequencies play havoc with sound limiters constantly taking the sensor into the red even at low volumes and reduced bass levels. So instead of concentrating on entertaining an audience, all my focus will be constantly watching the limiter to keep out of the danger zone hoping not to trip it.
A Nightmare scenario
I recently performed at a wedding reception at a historical building in Stockport. On arrival I was informed about the sound limiter. I was feeling anxious because I didn’t want it to spoil the night. The wedding party arrived and I started to sing, constantly watching the lights on the limiter and trying to keep it ‘green’. When I did my soundcheck the room was empty and everything seemed okay but, as soon as the room filled with talking guests the volume levels seemed really low and I had to turn it up so I could be heard. Somehow I got through the first song and hoped all would be okay. I invited the bride and groom for their first dance hoping that I’d get through with no problems. Half way through everything came to an abrupt end and the moment was ruined. The bride and groom looked mortified and I felt awful as I desperately looked onto the events manager that this was impossible. After everything reset I tried again with the volume reduced even more and the bass completely turned off. A few more songs in and another sudden stop. This left me having to apologise to everyone as if it was my fault that it kept going off and having to explain the situation to the audience. I also had to explain to the bride and groom that I had no choice but to abandon my show. It was clear to everyone that my volume wasn’t excessive by any stretch. The groom then complained to the venue who eventually agreed to help me override the system so I could carry on my performance without any other problems and, as luck would have it, no complaints from nearby neighbours.
“…venues who offer function rooms with installed sound limiters should be clearer to customers and outline the potential problems based on what kind of entertainment they plan to have, at least they can then decide if it’s the right venue for them.”
After performing in so many venues operating sound limiters with so many bad experiences like this I’ve decided that I can’t accept bookings where sound limiters are present, and had to turn work down as a consequence. I feel sad that I’ll just be replaced by someone else who’ll just ‘put up and shut up’ because they can’t afford not to. I can’t afford to turn work down neither but I also refuse to sing at a venue that restricts me from doing my job.
Being a victim of noise pollution myself I completely understand and sympathise with anyone having to suffer this. It can be horrible and stressful and sound limiters offer an easy solution and deterrent in combating the issue but they aren’t the answer. I think venues who offer function rooms with installed sound limiters should be clearer to customers and outline the potential problems based on what kind of entertainment they plan to have, at least they can then decide if it’s the right venue for them.
I hope this doesn’t seem like a rant or come across as being negative. I hope this will inform anyone wanting to book a venue of the potential problems that could occur. For me, It’s like being asked to compete in a formula one race with speed cameras on the track.
BEWARE – Acoustic Sound Panels
This is an update on my last post about sound limiting equipment and how it can ruin a party. Well, here’s another one – Direct Acoustic Sound Panels. They’re used in Marquees or venues where local residents have complained about noise levels. They basically confine the sound within the dancefloor area – a bit like stepping into an audio shower cubicle, but step away and the sound literally disappears. Each panel is made up of tiny speakers no bigger than in a car stereo and look like they belong on the roof of an ex-council house. When you step onto the dancefloor they sound loud but they also sound terrible – any bass frequencies are compressed and cancel out any mid range. Any live vocals would just be squashed by the limiter and push back any backing music but the sound quality is only part of the problem.
I was introduced to this sound system at a recent wedding where I was told that I couldn’t use my own speakers because of recent complaints from local residents. I knew this system would limit the volume in some way but after my soundcheck I was surprised how awful they sounded as well. I had no choice but to advise the bride and groom of my concerns who told me not to worry and it will all be okay, but as the night progressed and the audience settled in I realised one fundamental flaw in the system – I couldn’t make any announcements or talk to the audience unless they were on the dancefloor. I was even having to ask guests to pass on my announcements to the next table along. I eventually passed on the message to invite the bride and groom for their first dance but my voice sounded distorted and any adjustments to improve the sound failed. I even had to stand near the middle of the dancefloor so I could hear myself sing! The manager came to investigate and asked me to turn it up but I couldn’t do anything to fix the sound, or the lack of it. I think it eventually started to sink in with the manager that these acoustic panels were not the perfect sound solution after all. As a result of complaints from the wedding party the management tried to defeat the object and decided to plug in some satellite speakers to try and boost the sound but they were tiny and about as useful as a fart in the wind. It was at that point I think they regretted telling me to not bring my speakers.
So, once again, this may seem like another rant but it’s basically to inform people of these systems that try to control and restrict volume levels. This system basically ruined the evening, purely because it separated the audience from the music and entertainment.
If you’re planning a party at a venue that’s in or near a residential area you really do need to be aware of any noise issues as the venues will not point them out. Please check with your chosen venue that they do not operate with these restrictions, especially if you plan on having live entertainment, and if they do and try and assure you that it won’t be a problem, more than likely it will be.