Sound monitoring systems and sound/volume limiters
Often clients ask us “Have you ever heard the term “sound limiter?” and that is only if they have been told by their venue that they have one or if the client has been knowledgeable enough to ask about them.
Checking if your venue has a sound limiter is essential and something you should do early in the planning process.
What is a Sound Limiter?
A sound limiter is an electrical device that measures the amount of volume, or noise, in a room. If that volume reaches a certain level the sound limiter is designed to temporarily cut the electricity supply to the performance area or stage, thus terminating the power to the band's equipment and killing the source of the sound.
When you visit a venue take a look at the walls, ceiling and corners of the rooms. If you see a small box or unit with obvious red/amber/green lights on the front, the chances are it’s a sound limiter, which you should take the opportunity to enquire about. The visual indicator on the limiter works most commonly on a “traffic light” system, green = no problem, amber = sound levels approaching the threshold, red= threshold breached. If the light stays red for more than a few seconds, then the limiter will take action and cut the power. It is also important to note that just because you cannot see a box with green, amber and red lights on it does not mean the venue does not have one, so you should still ask. The system could be behind the bar, or locked away in a cupboard somewhere.
Why do Venues have Sound Limiters and Monitoring Systems installed?
Where venues are near residential properties, they have a duty to keep any noise (usually measured at a residential property’s boundary) to a reasonable level. In rare cases the venue may also have been instructed by the local authority to have one.
Health and Safety
There isn’t yet any legal requirement to protect customers or party guests, who are there voluntarily, from loud noises, but there is a requirement for employers to protect employees and contractors.
The venue want to keep noise down for other resident guests or simply just want to have greater control over the bands that play there.
Sounds fair in theory, right?
Trying to perform at venues with Sound Limiters installed is extremely difficult or indeed in some venues virtually impossible to work with because of the low volume limit that they have been set. We are not alone on this, we know of many musicians in the industry that have had to turn away bookings due to the existence of Sound Limiters.
The Gangsters are very experienced performers and have the ability to recognise and set acceptable sound levels which encourage the right atmosphere without shattering the ears of the audience. Our band members dictate sensible sound levels simply by using their common sense, an ability which does not, unfortunately, always apply to sound limiters.
Sound Limiters are often set lower than what is reasonable for a live band to work with, we fully understand and respect the logic behind a venue operating a sound limiter, but the reality is anything below 100db is too low for a live ska band and we would expect issues to arise. The average in most cases is for the Sound Limiters to be set to between 80-90 decibels (db) however you may find that yours is set higher or in some cases, believe it or not, lower! Most live amplified rock & pop gigs register at between 100 and 115db, acoustic drums kits alone can easily register 105 – 110db. We certainly find it very difficult, if not impossible, performing the same volume as let’s say, a vacuum cleaner (80db)!
We have found that many venues tend not to mention these systems being in place until very late on in the planning process (if at all) and it may not come to light until the day is almost upon us – when it’s too late to do anything about it.
90% of the population have probably never heard of a sound limiter or even know they exist and the audience will usually assume the band has messed up when it is performing normally and then there is a sudden total silence within a fraction of a second. This often results in 150 confused faces staring at the band with the assumption that their equipment has failed or they have done something wrong.
“We have bands here all the time and there’s never been a problem” – this is something that venues often say to our clients. We urge you to take this statement with a pinch of salt, while we would not suggest for one second that venues would state a deliberate untruth, but you have to bear in mind that no venue is going to want to willingly deter you from booking their building and services, certainly by stating their noise policy doesn’t allow anything louder than a dishwasher at your party! In addition, bands vary massively and it is not possible to fit all bands into one box. A small jazz trio or acoustic act is not going to produce (and does not require) the same amount of volume as a 5 piece party rock band or in our case a Ska band. Simply saying “there’s never a problem” isn’t enough in our view to confirm that we won’t have a problem.
One example is a wedding that we were booked at where the Sound Limiter cut the power off during sound checking and then again at the beginning of our 1st performance. Having reduced the volume as low as possible the system then continued to cut the power off so often during the first set that we were rendered unable to continue. The only option at that point was to either bypass the system or for us to totally pack away, luckily the venue manager had access to it and more importantly agreed to deactivate it because to not do so would have totally ruined the evening for both the client and ourselves. It is extremely rare for a venue to agree to do this and we have often heard of bands actually packing up and going home due to similar issues, unfortunately this seems to becoming more and more common place.
What are the problems associated with Sound Limiters?
Sound Limiters often need manual resetting by a person after tripping. If said person is not in the immediate vicinity then this can mean the power is off for an indeterminate amount of time. If the limiter keeps tripping then you can see how this can begin to turn into quite a ridiculous exercise.
We are a Ska band and you may well have booked us because you saw us performing in a way that you wanted to have at your wedding or function. Due to how the “traffic light” system limiters work on them it tends to mean that the band spend all night watching the traffic lights (if they can be seen) in an effort to keep the red light from coming on and tripping the power off, rather than focusing on their performance and the dance floor.
Sound limiters can, and frequently do, damage expensive band equipment. PA’s, amplifiers, speakers and mixing desks require an uninterrupted supply of power and to be switched on and off in the correct manner. The fuses and valves in our equipment can be damaged when suddenly powered off and on again, speaker drivers can blow too as a result of signal spikes and a power surge when the limiter kicks in. We have heard of thousands of pounds worth of equipment effectively being written off due to the continued interruption to the power supply caused by Sound Limiters.
So, what is our stance on this?
Due to the reasons given above, The Gangsters are reluctant to take bookings for venues that employ the use of Sound Limiters or Sound Monitoring Systems of any kind. However, if the venue agrees to deactivate the Sound Limiter if it should trip during sound checking or during any of our performances then this would be acceptable. This would be on condition that both the band and the venue management gave assurances to remain vigilant and act professionally and responsibly to ensure that the volume level remains at an acceptable and reasonable level. This is something we are more than capable of doing after over 11 years of performing live. If the venue agrees to put this in writing (so there are no arguments or disagreements with on duty staff on our arrival), then we would be more than happy to proceed with the booking.
If you have any questions or concerns on this matter, please do contact us. We would be happy to speak to the venue ourselves to see if the above conditions can be agreed to.