4 Jan 2013

Further adventures with noise limiters: warning and advice

Booking a wedding venue? If you're thinking of booking a live band you might want to check beforehand the venue doesn't have a noise limiter.

If you don't know what a noise limiter is, you might want to check out my previous blog post on noise limiters before continuing...

So on New Year's Eve I played a gig with one of my function bands. It was a wedding; the crowd was vibrant; the bride radiant. The venue itself was beautiful, with excellent food and impeccably-mannered staff...

But they had quite simply the worst arrangement for live bands I have ever come across in my life.

For a start, we were not allowed amplifiers. Guitar, bass and keyboards had to be DI'd [DI = 'Direct Imput'. This is where the instruments are plugged directly into the PA system, losing the character, tone quality and control you get from on-stage amplifiers]. As did the electric drums. That's right, we had to use an electric kit. They had no monitors [on-stage speakers which allow the musicians to hear themselves], and we weren't allowed to set up our own. They had no microphones, stands or leads, and this was the mixing desk they gave us for three vocals, guitar, bass, keys and drums:

Pathetic. Not only that, but everything then went through a very hard volume limiter at a level so low that there was absolutely no difference in volume when I started singing off mic. Seriously. There were three people having a conversation next to the area where we were set up, and we couldn't hear ourselves playing.

I started playing the tambourine in one song, and had to stop because it was drowning the band out.

The sound of the drummer hitting the pads was louder than the sound of the drums through the PA.  It was, quite frankly, an embarrassment for everybody concerned.

Now, the reason the venue gave for this situation was "The council have placed very strict limits on noise levels here."

So this may or may not have been the case. It's worth pointing out that the venue was a country house in the middle of several acres of land, out in the middle of nowhere... AND IT WAS NEW YEAR'S EVE!!! Who exactly was going to be calling the police at half midnight to complain about the noise, for goodness' sake?!

But leaving that aside for the moment, I think for a venue to take bookings for wedding receptions claiming they have the facilities for any non-acoustic live bands is disingenuous, unfair to the bands, and nothing short of conning the clients. For this venue to claim they can accommodate live function bands is like saying I can cater for a reception dinner because I've got a microwave and a frying pan. We are not a ceilidh band or a Lady Gaga tribute show, so would not take a booking from someone looking for an act like that.

This venue, like so many others with noise limiters, wants to take the money from every client they can, regardless of the fact that they are simply not fit for purpose. Of course the venue was beautiful, the food was superb and the staff were excellent... but when they're asked "Are we able to book a live band" they should make it clear they can accommodate acoustic acts, chamber music groups, solo pianists, guitarists, harpists, mandolin players... all sorts of wonderful and entertaining live music options, but not seven piece pop/disco/rock bands.

We did our best, of course, and performed with a good grace, keeping the crowd entertained as best we could, but due to the venue's live music situation, the guests were clearly disappointed by the frankly pathetic noise dribbling out of the PA, and the band were humiliated.

These buggers are after your money. They want your booking, and some of the more unscrupulous venues will say anything to convince you they can cater to your every need.

But if you want to book a live act, make sure they don't have a noise limiter at the venue, and certainly don't book a venue that makes bands put everything through the house PA with none of their own amplification. Any professional function band worth their salt will turn their volume levels down at your request. Putting it in the hands of a noise limiter is no fun for anyone.

If you're reading this as a member of a function band, and noise limiters are a problem for you, then make sure you ask the client if there's a limiter at the venue when taking the booking.  Depending on how far in advance the booking is, or how certain they are about their venue, you shouldn't feel bad about warning the clients of noise limiters - after all, the venue probably won't do it.

The original Noise Limiter article: http://pflog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/want-live-band-hate-music-get-noise.html

How to choose a first dance song for your wedding: http://pflog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/first-dance-shorter.html

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