Sound limiters and function bands - what you need to know
Our advice: a series of regularly updated articles written by band leader Mike Paul-Smith, detailing everything you need to know before booking live music for your event.
As we travel throughout the UK performing live music for wedding receptions, corporate events and private parties, we find more and more venues that have been forced to install a sound limiter (sometimes also called a noise limiter).
We've actually been quite lucky - I can only think of one Down for the Count performance that has been "ruined" by a noise limiter (and we still got to the end of the set with all the guests dancing away); however, I hear some real horror stories from fellow musicians in other bands, and live in fear of the day that we turn up to a new venue and can't perform properly because of a sound limiter.
Therefore, before you book your wedding reception venue please read this article carefully!
What is a sound limiter?
Quite simply, sound limiters are devices that cut off electric power above a pre-defined noise limit. Many venues have been forced to install them by the local authorities as a condition of their licence, perhaps due to noise complaints from nearby residents - although we know of a few venues who have installed them on their own initiative.
At venues with a noise limiter, the function band or DJ is normally made to plug in to designated power sockets, linked to a sound monitoring device on the wall. Most models of limiter have a display which flashes red when the noise limit is tripped - and after a few seconds, it cuts the power to the band or disco.
This also turns off the band’s stage lighting, plunging your party into a sudden, silent darkness. When this happens, a musician or staff member needs to reset the power, leading to a delay of around 30 seconds during which the band cannot perform.
You might have realised one of the ironies of a noise limiter is that it can't cut the power to acoustic instruments, even though it might have been acoustic instruments that tripped it in the first place.
There are three totally acoustic instruments at a Down for the Count performance - the drums, the horns (trumpets and saxophones), and the audience. Bizarrely, I've heard many stories about the audience being the thing that trips a noise limiter.
Are you beginning to see why they are nuisance yet?!
Performing live music or providing a disco at a venue with a noise limiter is challenging. Most noise limiters are properly installed, with a reasonable noise limit; when this happens we can get on with the job, and it may be harder than usual, but with any luck the audience won't know anything about it.
Will a sound limiter affect Down for the Count's performance at my event?
We’ve learned how to deal with noise limited venues, and can offer the following advice:
1. Before you book a venue, check whether or not they have a noise limiter
Sadly, we’ve lost count of the number of venues who have failed to disclose the fact that they have a limiter at the time of booking - often springing it on you as a nasty surprise the week before your wedding.
We think this is unethical, and we urge you not to sign until you know whether or not there is a limiter at your venue.
Having a limiter doesn’t mean you can’t have live music or a DJ - but it’s essential you know before you sign on the dotted line!
2. If your venue has a noise limiter, check what volume it is set to
Councils and venues impose different noise limits - some are no problem, yet some are completely prohibitive to live (or even recorded) music. We’ve put together a guide to demonstrate what different noise limits mean, and whether or not they may hinder a live music performance.
We would like to make the disclaimer that this is only a very rough guide, based on our personal experience - each venue, band, audience and noise limiter is different, and the only way to know for certain whether or not a particular limiter is problematic is to set up the band and get them performing with an excited audience in the room to see if there are any issues.
3. Don’t book venues with noise limits below 80 dB if you want live music
As you’ll see from our guide, a noise limit below 80 dB is completely incompatible with amplified live music. If you want live music at your event, your musicians will struggle - so we would suggest you look elsewhere for your venue.
Most bands, including Down for the Count, will be fine with a noise limit above 90 or 95 dB. Between 80 and 90 dB is a tricky range, where performing may or may not be a problem. It's best you get in touch to discuss and we'll do our best to help.
4. Book a band with acoustic options
A swing band such as Down for the Count has a slight advantage over rock and pop bands because the music we perform is inherently acoustic in its nature. It is possible for us to perform mostly acoustically, with a small amount of amplification for the keyboards and vocals. Of course, you don’t get as big a sound when we do this - but at least you know that you will be able to enjoy live music, whatever happens.
We also have a quirky acoustic jazz trio who are perfect for venues with tight noise restrictions - check out Alexander's Dixieland Band!
If you'd like to know more about sound limiters, give us a call on 07855 488 462 or drop us an email.
We'd also love to hear from you if your party has been affected by a noise limiter - we're always interested to know about venues with problematic limiters, so that we are well informed before performing there.
We are not here to name and shame venues (many of whom have been forced to install a limiter against their wishes), but are here to work with you an the venue to make sure you have a great party - without disturbing the neighbours...