7 Dec 2012

Want a live band? Hate music? Get a Noise Limiter!

I know many of the people reading this blog are professional musicians, and I'm willing to bet whenever we hear the words "Oh, and there's a noise limiter at the venue", we all have pretty much the same reaction.

The Bastard Box 2000 Enjoyment Elimination System
For those of you who haven't come across one of these Scroogeboxes, they work by measuring the volume of the band, and when it reaches a point where you can actually hear them playing, it switches all the electrics off on that circuit.  Some limiters then reset automatically after a few seconds, but others require the band to clamber over to the box and reset it manually. This, needless to say, is a pain in the arse.

There are several reasons why a venue might have a noise limiter installed:

  • Employers are legally obliged to protect the health of their employees, and this includes the exposure to loud and sustained noise;
  • The venue is in a residential area, and the local authorities have placed very strict regulations on the noise levels permitted after a certain time
  • They have been plagued by unprofessional bands that quite simply play far too loud for the comfort and enjoyment of their guests, and need to do something to put a stop to it
All these are valid (though often abused) reasons, but let's be honest here - the main reason for a venue to have a noise limiter is that they want the money brought in by events with a live band, but without having to put up with the actual music.  These are people that quite simply do not enjoy live bands.

What's that bloody din?!
Overly loud bands can really spoil an evening, I agree.  If you're on the dance floor, you end up with your head buzzing and your ears bleeding; if you're trying to have a conversation at the back of the room you end up shouting yourself hoarse.

I am in several function bands, and we never play loud.  We're dead set against miking the drums in small and medium-sized venues (a practice which has also crippled the unsigned band circuit, but that's another matter); the guitarist I usually work with is possibly the only guitarist on the planet you ever have to tell to turn his amp up!  And of course, like most professional bands, we'll always listen to the crowd and turn things down in the rare event that people complain...

But to take a recent example, we played a venue where the noise limiter was set to 90db.  That's about the volume of a fairly powerful hairdryer.  And it had a manual-reset button.  Simply playing quieter wasn't entirely successful, either, as certain frequencies would resonate more than others, so if you hit a certain note while the drummer was on the hi-hat and that fat bloke was just out of the way of the limiter's microphone, no matter how softly you played, the switch would trip.  It was, quite frankly, a nightmare for us, and the guests were thoroughly underwhelmed - not to mention pissed off. You could hear the guests' feet on the dance floor over the music.  When you're nearing the end of the evening, and the drunken wedding party can't sing along to "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" because it might trip the limiter, you know something's wrong with the situation.

So if you must have a noise limiter at your venue, why don't you just make it clear to clients that they cannot book party bands?  Jazz ensembles; solo pianists; string quartets; harpists... these are all excellent options.  But don't string a client along that yes, you're the perfect venue and can cater for all their needs, allow them to go ahead and book the band of their choice, then sting them with the news that the band they've paid good money for might as well play in the car park. 

Don't you realise you're the only person in the room complaining?

If you like good live music and need a party band, jazz quartet or solo pianist for your event, drop me a line through http://www.peterfalconer.co.uk/contact

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