SOUND LIMITERS & LIVE MUSIC
A sound limiter monitors the volume (measured in decibels) in a room, and if the volume exceeds a preset limit then the power is automatically turned off to all musical equipment that uses electricity.
1) What is a sound limiter?
A sound limiter (also known as an environmental sound controller) is a pre-installed device that is in line of the mains electrical supply and sockets that a performer uses. Limiters are installed to cut the power to the performer if the sound reaches a pre-defined decibel level. The power will remain off for up to 10 seconds before being re-set.
In other words, a limiter will turn off the power source for the sound if it’s higher than the level set by the venue / council.
A sound limiter will have a visual meter to let the performer know if they are within the decibel limit. These usually follow the format of ‘traffic lights’. A scale of coloured LED lights from Green through Orange and Red indicate whether the sound level in the area of the limiter is within the pre-set decibel level.
A sound limiter will be usually out of site apart from the meter, which will be either on the ceiling or on the wall in view of the band. Sometimes if installed incorrectly the performers may be unable to see the lights.
A performer’s job is to entertain an audience, which is made very difficult if having to keep watching a light meter!
2) Why a limiter?
Although this is a broad question and every situation will potentially be different, a venue will tend to use a limiter if they have had complaints from local residents about sound. In order for a venue to be able to renew it’s license to have music they may be forced to comply with council legislation. This is the most common reason for a venue to use a sound limiter, although in some situations a limiter may be installed for the health and safety of the employees at work.
There is no set limit to the volume of the limiter; if for example there is a dispute with local residents an agreement will be made by the local council or enforcement officer based on the type of entertainment and frequency of live music the venue accommodates.
3) How does a sound limiter affect a live gig ?
Live music is dynamic, which means there are many changes in volume with ‘peaks’ which can set off a limiter. Therefore the overall volume must be set low enough to accommodate these peaks. Pre-recorded DJ music has been compressed to remove the peaks, so the overall volume of DJ music can be set higher than live music without danger of setting off the sound limiter.
The volume of a live performance varies depending on the size and type of a band, and on the instruments they use. An Acoustic Duo act is very less likely to be affected by a sound limiter than for example an 8 piece Soul band that may use Brass instruments, or a Rock band which uses acoustic drum kit and electric guitar amplification. How much a performance is affected will depend on several factors, such as:
*The size of the room
*How acoustic the room is, for example a tiled floor and wall will deflect sound and make it seem louder as opposed to a wooden room that will allow the sound to resonate and will to some degree soak up the sound.
*The limiter’s volume limit; most are set in the region of between 83 – 93 decibels (about the volume of a hair dryer or a drill!)
*The placement of the limiter’s microphone is a determining factor in how problematic it will be. For example, if the placement of the microphone is above the musicians it’s more likely to pick up a lot of sound compared to a placement of 3-6 metres in front of the performer.
*Ambient noise; if you have a raucous audience they will add to the overall ambient volume being produced and may help set the unit off!
4) Venue responsibilities at pre-booking stage
More often than not in our experience the majority of venues are very accommodating to musicians, but unfortunately we have found over the years that if a venue has been fitted with a sound control device they are un-likely to verbally make a client aware and even to explain the limitations of the unit before a client books. A venue will often refer a customer to the very small print of their terms & conditions, which will briefly explain or outline the limitations that have been put in place.
This becomes problematic when a band confirms bookings before a client understands what restrictions their party will potentially be under by the venue or council, and thus ultimately whether the client is able to have the type of entertainment they would like.
In no case are the limitations set by the venue something that a performer cannot deal with, although unfortunately sometimes the ‘blame’ is shifted to a musician with the implication that they somehow are not ‘good enough’ or ‘professional enough’ to deal with the said limits. More often than not it is the lack of communication that can potentially cause issues as it may be more important to secure a booking than concerning themselves with the details of the wedding party / evening event / evening party (anytime where there may be amplified music or sound).
In our experience of working with sound limiters, we are able to keep the band volume under whatever decibel limit has been set, but the result is that our client and their guests don’t always get the full benefit of the live pop/rock band they’ve chosen for their event. Mainly because of the drop in volume which often means using different equipment (i.e. softer drum sticks). Also because the performers have to keep one eye on the meter during the gig.
5) Our Advice
Our advice to clients is that you should always check the details of any limitations in terms of sound restrictions, and inform the band in advance so that we can prepare the necessary equipment and performance schedule to make sure you get as close as possible to 110% rock and roll. Always check the small print in your contract, better still read through your terms or service with a venue before making the final decision as entertainment & sound is a massive part of any party.
Monstaball have been working professionally for over 10 years having played from small clubs to large theatre venues over the years and have also supported large named acts.
We’ve played in many countries including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France, Switzerland and Spain. Monstaball only use the most professional industry equipment to be able to deliver a high impact comfortable sound that will inject energy into almost any situation.