One of the things we have to be particularly aware of when playing at a venue is noise level. This is something that can be the cause of a little confusion, and can impact the party massively if it’s been misunderstood. Our blog tells you a little more about noise limits, decibels and noise ratings, so you can understand exactly what your noise limit means.
Venues with noise limits
It’s becoming noticeably more common for certain venues to have either self-imposed or council imposed noise limits. Most often these are not in place with regards to health and safety (however nobody wants to leave a party with ringing in their ears, ourselves included) but with regards to noise pollution being a nuisance to folk in the neighboring area. In these situations what is “noisy” becomes a matter of opinion instead of safety, and can make things a little complicated if misunderstood.
With this in mind, it is always worth asking a venue what their policy on noise is before you book it for your event. In our experience many venues have a “definitive” sound level that they work to, but very little understanding of what that means.
They are keen to get your business and will tell you they have no problem with a band playing and that they have a noise limit of 85 decibels. Perhaps they’ve even had bands playing before! However, they won’t tell you that the last band was an acoustic duo playing background music, and if you want a party where everyone is dancing it’s worth remembering that 85 decibels is about the level of a food blender, a hoover, background traffic or a room of people applauding and cheering.
We have genuinely played in a venue where the noise limit was set at a level where Matthew and Helen were setting it off without using a microphone, and we had to ask the audience not to cheer. That’s not a party in anyone’s book…
Often the venues lack a basic understanding of noise management, and so hopefully this blog will help. Sometimes they have been given an app on a mobile phone, or a cheap Radioshack noise level meter and a number to work to. You probably don’t need me to tell you that the microphone that picks up your voice on your phone isn’t the most accurate of audio equipment.
So what is ‘ decibel level’ and how does it work?
This is where it gets scientific I’m afraid.
The decibel (db) noise scale is logarithmic (stay with me here); an increase of 6db represents a doubling of noise pressure, and an increase of 10db is subjectively where most people would recognize a doubling in noise level. To explain, this means we can say 80db is roughly perceived to be twice as loud as 70db. It also means that 90db can be perceived to be four times as loud as 70db.
So if a venue has been told they need to keep the level to 90db and they decide they’ll keep it at 85db to be on the safe side (after all that doesn’t seem like a much smaller number) they’re actually seriously dropping the level and it’s your party’s atmosphere that suffers.
Added to this is the fact that low frequencies “appear” quieter to the human ear so will usually be louder in terms of decibels in a mix. To this end a knowledgeable, experienced sound engineer will put all this information together with a professional noise level meter that has software in that replicates the way the human ear works.
Noise ratings and the human ear
There are different ratings to take in to account the way we hear.
• A weighting is the closest response to the human ear
• B follows the response of the human ear at moderate levels
• C is a flat scale/constant and includes much more of the low frequency range.
It’s worth asking the venue which weighting they are required to work to. If they don’t know then more questions need to be asked as they have either plucked their figure out of the air or are unclear on what the council has told them. As we’ve seen, the difference of a few db here and there actually makes a great difference to the perceived noise. Background noise (air conditioning, table service, laughter) also adds to the overall noise level.
How can Madhen help?
If you’re struggling to make sense of what the venue are telling you we are more than happy to speak to them ourselves on your behalf and report back to you. After all, if we tell you we’ll be fine the party will be rocking, but if we tell you your guests won’t even be able to sing along to their favourite songs it’s not going to be a particularly memorable.
There are ways around noise issues. We can bring a different set of equipment (electronic drums etc.) where the loudest thing on stage will be the singers’ voices acoustically but you might be enjoying the band with the sound of the bar behind you drowning out the music.
For your information this is what a professional noise level meter looks like:
This is NOT what a professional noise level meter looks like:
…and when you put them next to each other measuring the same source you often get something like this:
So if you feel as though you might need a little help in understanding noise levels , please get in touch and let us help. Our years of experience means we understand the challenges involved with live music performance. We will give you honest advice as the ‘noise makers’ in order to help you make the right decision for your entertainment. Our priority is to be able to create a great party atmosphere that your guests will enjoy and find a solution where you and the venue are both happy!