It’s your wedding day. You’ve invited 120 people to your evening reception to celebrate with you. The DJ has fired up the speakers, he’s banging out your favourite tunes, you and your friends look at each other, smile and run to the dance floor. You’re dancing, you’re laughing, you’re screaming, you’re having a great time. You’re building up to the chorus, the beat is kicking in, the drums are heavy and the bass is about to drop. Then, without warning…the lights go out, the music stops and the sounds of 120 confused voices are all that can be heard. What happened? Did the power cut off? But the lights in the next room are still on. It was the DJ wasn’t it? He messed it up. His equipment is broken. Great.
Well, actually, it’s probably none of those things. It’s most likely a sound limiter. A sound limiter is a device that cuts off the power to the DJ or band’s equipment when it gets above a certain noise level. They are installed into the electrical system of a venue and can be spotted by a box that is attached to the wall. The box contains a microphone which monitors the sound level in the room and indicates how loud it is by flashing lights, usually green (OK), amber (warning), red (danger). If the sound levels become too high and the lights are constantly in the red the box will cut off the electrical supply to the sockets thus cutting the supply of power to the band or DJ’s equipment.
What? Why would a venue install one of those? The answer is that venues rarely choose to have them, they’re usually imposed upon them by environmental health or as part of a licensing agreement allowing the venue to have loud music. If residents in the local area complain to the council that the music is too loud a venue may be forced to have one. No one wants one and they can make life very difficult for performers. Of course venues don’t want to compromise people booking them so they often want bands and DJs to work with them.
Here are some difficulties they present:
1. They’re often set very low
In order to avoid noise pollution some venues set the limiters very low. I was once hired as a wedding singer and DJ at a venue where a limiter was set to 85dB (decibels). This is not very loud. In fact it’s about the volume of a hoover. The entertainment was very difficult. Most bands play at around 105 to 110 dB. A professional musician or band should be able to work with a limiter set at around 100dB. It’s not easy but if a venue imposes that a good professional should be able to work with it. Check out this chart to give you an idea of what decibel level different sounds are.
2. They present DJs, and bands particularly, with a problem
It can often become very difficult to do your job, particularly if you are in a band. Band’s mix their instruments to the volume of the drums and, as I’m sure you’re aware, even the best drummers in the world can only be so quiet. Drums can register 105 to 115dB. Most limiters are set to around 90dB which can cause serious problems. Bass also affects the decibel level. This is easier for a DJ who can lose some of the bass. It is more difficult for a band or live wedding guitarist and singer.
3. They can damage equipment
DJs and bands are required to plug their equipment into an outlet that is connected to the limiter. If the limiter trips while the equipment is on it can cause spikes in a band’s sound system which can potentially ruin their equipment
4. They stop the flow of the music
This one is obvious. If the music keeps stopping your enjoyment of your evening can be compromised.
5. Blame the entertainment
With the best will in the world there is only so quiet a musician or DJ can make the music before it becomes unlistenable. Often a sound limiter will trip and the audience will think it’s the musician who has messed up when really there was little that could be done.
So what can you do about it?
1. Ask your venue
Speak to your wedding co-ordinator and ask whether they have a sound limiter. They will know if they do. Ask them what level it is set at. Ask them if they have had bands in before and how loud they were. However, do push on this as, from experience, some venues say they’ve never had a problem but when it comes to actually performing it is sometimes very difficult to believe that.
If they do have a limiter, ask your venue what they can do to make sure the evening goes smoothly. Will they set it at a reasonable level in discussion with the wedding singer, band or DJ you have booked? If they agree make sure you get this in writing.
3. Think about your style of entertainment
If you are in a built up area and the venue does have a limiter perhaps you may re-consider your entertainment. Do you have to have a band and a rocking dance floor? Perhaps you might want something a little more chilled out. An acoustic guitarist and wedding singer may be able to create a “live lounge” feel which would be significantly quieter.
4. Talk to your entertainment
Bands, DJs and other entertainers will be happy to talk through with you what they require and how loud they will be. They may even be happy to negotiate on your behalf with the venue.
No musical entertainer wants to leave their audience’s ears ringing. It’s not our desire to play loud, it’s just that we need to be loud enough to be heard and that often involves decibel levels that limiters are set below. A professional entertainer will be able to assist you in your decision and a good venue will be able to negotiate a limiter’s use. Go armed with your questions and make sure you know exactly what the venue’s stipulations are.