The venue is booked, caterer chosen, the ball is rolling and then –BAM! Shock! Horror! You find out your venue is also hosting a little box of boring- a sound limiter. So just how is this going to ruin  sorry, affect your night?


What is a sound limiter?
A ‘sound limiter’ is a pain in the device installed at a venue, used to monitor the sound level within the immediate area. The sound is measured in decibels (dB) and is pre-set to a certain limit (commonly around 90 dB –equivalent to the noise from an electric lawn mower). If this limit is breached for a selected period of time (usually around 5 seconds) the limiter will cut power to the stage- again for a select period of time. Usually, the more often it is tripped the longer the power will be out. Marco polo, anyone?

They tend to use a visual warning system using coloured indicators (Green- noise falls within acceptable limits. Amber- sound is approaching the pre-set breach point. Red- noise has reached/exceeded set limits and is in imminent risk of cutting power)

Why are they installed?
Sound limiters are put in place to spoil everyone’s fun  enforce a boundary on the amount of noise in a venue. They are increasingly common in venues that host wedding receptions and live music in near proximity to local residents (who may be disturbed by persistent noise coming from the venue they chose to live next to…) They are also used to protect staff against repeated exposure to loud noise in a working environment. There is no legal obligation for any venue to have one, however some venues use them to avoid noise complaints from the public- which is generally not good for business.

Why are they an issue?
Aside from the obvious buzzkill of having the band’s power cut mid-song, limiters directly inhibit the level of enthusiasm a band can pump into their performance. The last thing a performer wants is to trip a limiter and leave the audience in a dark quiet room not knowing what has gone wrong, but performing at a low volume in order to appease the limiter can have a direct impact on the quality of the overall performance- something the performer also needs to avoid in order to do their job.

In addition to the venue losing sound and lighting, sudden power cuts can damage equipment. This incurs a great detriment to the performer who may have to repair or replace expensive amplifiers etc. – this may even render them unable to continue the gig.

My chosen venue has a limiter, is this an issue?
Not necessarily! It is always wise before booking a venue to ask if they have a sound limiter and if so, what dB level it is set to. Knowing this, we can plan accordingly. Turning up on the day to find a limiter is in place can cause problems as the band’s equipment may not be suitable to the venues noise policy. (Bummer)

How can this be avoided?|
Don’t choose a venue with a sound limiter If a venue has a limiter in place (and is not reasonably able to set a higher limit or temporarily disable the limiter) there are a few things a performer can try to avoid exceeding the threshold set by the device. Try.

A band’s sound is set by the drummer, this is because an acoustic drum is the only instrument that cannot be ‘turned down’. If the drums themselves become too much for the limiter to allow (which is a common issue as an acoustic drum will average out around 110dB!) the drummer can use a fairy-light foot and a drum brush as opposed to a stick (rock and roll!) . This creates a softer sound- but having your drummer tip-toe around his/her kit isn’t going to work for a high-energy rock gig. It doesn’t exactly scream ‘class’ to stuff a duvet in the kick drum either. Smaller bands and acoustic sets can work around this- but even applause (and there will be applause) has been known to anger the little box of boring.

In the presence of a particularly harsh limiter (one pre-set to a very low threshold or in very close proximity to the stage) the performer may resolve to using an electric drum kit. Some bands will be able to make this work- but how many times have you been blown away by an electric drum kit?

All in all, these little buzzkill robot police are a good idea to avoid if you plan on enjoying your evening but if you can’t possibly avoid one- perhaps you need a smaller band.