Noise Limiters: Making and Breaking Sound Barriers?

ManCoveringEarsIt takes more than a little verve and practice to pull off the kind of party performance expected of a professional function band – and the other night was no exception. The latest in a series of early new year corporate entertainment functions was for us, an exciting opportunity to play in a large venue where you can have great fun. and really get a crowd going. (All 600 of them) Excellent night.

There was just one  issue that we seem to re-encounter more often than over-enthusiastic stage invasions – the noise limiter! For a great deal of function venues we’re booked for, noise limiters seem to have become a compulsory device in order for the allowance of live music. Understandable from a residential point-of-view, when you consider the average DJ-covered wedding party can continue well into the early hours; and a handy reminder to over-zealous rock function bands that they may actually be playing above the level of lyrical comprehension.

But when it comes to corporate functions and weddings, venues are in the business of charging to host client events and in particular live entertainment. My experience in quite a few cases in recent years has been that clients book venues and pay a deposit, only to discover on the night that the noise limiter is 3 metres away from the band and set at at 85 decibels, a low trip level. So venues promoting live entertainment for private functions have a responsibility to ensure they are (to use consumer rights jargon) “fit for purpose”. No problem when you have only background music, but not when you’re having a party.Let’s face it, you wouldn’t organise a large business conference for a company and tell the keynote speakers to keep their voices down to avoid the microphone cutting out.

We’ve experienced our fair share of sound-monitored venues where the acceptable volume level has ranged from around 60 decibels (the equivalent of 3-4 people conversing), up to 90 decibels which can equate to an entire 50+ wedding dance floor shouting encouragement!  Not only do we have to consider our own sound emissions when in the throes of a Sinatra number, but also that of an enthusiastic audience. Rapturous applause could trigger a power outage in the closing bars of a song, if we don’t get the microphone levels just right. I remember one well known venue we played in Richmond, just as we reached the bridge in “All night Long” the power cut out. Lionel Richie would not be pleased and nor was the client.

It all depends how these devices are configured, and if they are not set-up properly then it can ruin the clients entertainment. A fundamentalist culture of health and safety  regulations, over zealous councils and  jobsworth venue managers are not conducive to helping clients who pay decent rates and expect live entertainment loud enough to get the party going.

I can’t see these contraptions disappearing anytime soon, so we’ve tried to become attuned to the sensitivity of noise limiters,without impacting upon  performance delivery. Not an easy feat, but it’s part of knowing your trade as a function bandleader. Having said that, I know some bands who refuse to play at venues where there is one, they believe it compromises their act.

So before you book a venue for your event you’d be well advised to check whether the venue also has correctly configured noise limitation technology in place which fits the style of music. Not all bands can do justice to their setlist within such limitations, so better to be safe than  subdued!