Our 8 facts and essential tips about sound limiters at wedding venues. Everything you need to know for a perfect wedding!
A sound limiter is an electrical device installed at live music venues to monitor and control when needed, the volume of musical equipment, PA’s, DJ’s and even crowds. If certain pre-set volume (decibel) limits are exceeded for usually no more than 10 seconds, sound limiters will restrict the volume by either electronically forcing electrical equipment volumes down or by shutting off all power to the stage or venue for 10 seconds and even up to a minute.
Sound limiters, boring and pretty anti-fun!
Yes, it’s official, sound limiters are one of the dullest aspects of a wedding, party or any live music event! They are the bane of a live musician’s life, a nuisance for venues and can potentially spoil your wedding with their harsh sound restrictions. They are very common nowadays and we get many a couple asking all sorts of questions about them so in this guide, I will give you the 8 essential facts and tips you need to know about sound limiters at any wedding venue.
Below are my 8 top facts in order and click on any of them if you want to skip straight to that section of the guide.
- What are wedding venue sound limiters?
- Different types of sound limiter and their operation
- Why are limiters used in wedding venues?
- The pros of sound limiters
- The cons of sound limiters
- Should you avoid wedding venues with sound limiters?
- What you need to ask your wedding venue about their limiter
- Ways live entertainers and venues can adapt to sound limiters for you
After my 8 facts, there are some top tips and our real-life tales from our experience of sound limiters. You can click here to skip straight to that section too. If you want to read more on this topic, our guide here covers it plus so much more essential information you need to know when booking a live wedding band. It’s a must-read.
1. What are wedding venue sound limiters?
I covered this a little in my intro but imagine a small box on the wall of the room where your live wedding entertainment will perform. This innocent looking box has a microphone placed somewhere in the room and is electronically connected to some or all the plugs (and sometimes the lighting) of the room or venue.
The sound limiter usually has a display showing a small traffic light styled system, so the venue staff and musicians can watch their volume levels. Volume levels in the green and amber sections are fine but if volume levels stay in the red section for 5 to 10 seconds you’re in for a nasty surprise. One slight downside to this system is that instead of focussing solely on you and their performance, live wedding bands and entertainers can end up staring at the traffic lights all night making sure they don’t trigger the sound limiter and ruin all the fun for you all! It can make wedding entertainers feel on edge every time they perform.
Let the live music start!
As soon as live music starts or everyone starts talking loudly, the microphone monitors the volume (decibels) produced and if at any point the volume (decibels) produced exceeds the limit set on the sound limiter that little unassuming box on the wall will either shut off all power in the room (sometimes including stage or venue lighting) for 10 seconds and even up to a minute, or force the volume of the PA speakers down cutting short, or at the least stifling any live performance and no doubt confusing you and all your guests. No fun for anyone I’m sure you would agree!
Below I have a very handy infographic where you can understand the different volume (decibel) levels in everyday life and what volume (decibel) ranges wedding bands and entertainers can typically perform within. Use this as a guide when speaking to prospective wedding venues and if you want a copy for yourself just let us know.
2. Different types of limiter and their operation
So as you can see, both types of sound limiter have pretty anti-fun, anti-entertainment side effects. When the first type of limiter is triggered, it simply shuts off all power to the stage or room in question and only brings it back online after a set amount of time. During that time, all music and typically room lighting is switched off giving the impression of a full-blown power outage.
As a drummer, I’ve been left playing on my own in a darkened room with wedding guests gasping and being very confused! If these kinds of sound limiter are triggered constantly, they can switch all power off for up to 60 minutes to teach everyone a lesson. Thankfully, no one at Seventh Second has had to deal with that situation!
Volume restricting limiter results
The volume restricting limiters are a bit more friendly than the blackout variety but do still cause a lot of problems. A lot of the time, these limiters don’t display a traffic light warning system so live wedding entertainers are left guessing as to whether they are too loud of not. If they do become too loud the limiter system immediately forces any sound systems volume down which creates a pretty odd effect.
Again, drummers can’t be controlled by this type of sound limiter, so we have to react instantly to the constantly changing volume levels. It’s weird and disruptive to say the least and the end result is a live wedding band or entertainer having to constantly monitor the volume of the sound system and adjusting accordingly. Distracting!
Have fun but keep it down will you?!
It’s worth pointing out that all sound limiters microphones take crowd noise into account and I’ve experienced quite a few situations where wedding guests are chatting, singing or shouting too loudly for the limiters, triggering them and leaving us all in the dark or having to play extremely quietly. Wedding entertainers can end up having to monitor their volume and the wedding crowds for the whole night. All wedding entertainers want to avoid at all costs triggering sound limiters so this can end up being exhausting work!
It’s no-ones fault
It’s a real pain for any wedding performer and we know the guests aren’t to blame, they have no idea what’s going on and couldn’t possibly know how loud they are allowed to be. We love noisy crowds because it’s a wedding that’s having an awesome time and that’s what we want here at Seventh Second!
3. Why are these annoying sound limiters used you ask?
Sound limiters are becoming very common and any quality wedding band or wedding entertainer should be pros when it comes to dealing with them. Our wedding bands are anyway as we have a lot of experience with them. Why are they becoming so common at venues, especially wedding venues though? Why would any live music venue install a device that actively turns down the volume and the fun at a wedding?!
Housing and noise pollution
The most common answer is the issue of noise pollution. Live music and weddings, in general, are loud affairs and regardless of whether you marry in a stunning city venue or a picturesque barn or country manor, the neighbours of these venues don’t want a load of excessive noise pounding through their walls every weekend. That’s fair enough but most quality wedding bands and entertainers have always understood that simply playing as loud as possible isn’t professional or appropriate at a wedding. There’s been relative harmony between residents and live music venues for years but in the last 7 years or so, things have changed…
“Pub bands” and volume issues
We’ve performed at loads of pubs and other wedding venues over the years and had the staff make us promise many times we wouldn’t just blast out music at top volume like the “pub band” last week. Even considering the issue of these noisy bands, more and more properties are being built near live music venues without sufficient noise-damping cladding fitted and their unhappy new owners are finding they’ve moved into noisy neighbourhoods.
Multiple live music venues have had to close over recent years from sound complaints due to this very reason and the situation got so bad that the government had to step in about 3 years ago and force building contractors to use proper damping materials when building near venues and also inform prospective new homeowners that they would be living next to an established, law-abiding and often historic live music venue.
Wedding venue uncertainty
However, this has left live music venues including wedding venues seriously worried and so to protect themselves, there’s been a huge increase in the number of sound limiters installed as a precaution. It’s a real shame as most live wedding bands and entertainers have always performed well within legal and acceptable sound limits in the past without the need for sound limiters. Venues don’t like installing these expensive devices as they limit what they can offer people like you but the fear of closure is sadly very real.
The pros and cons of wedding venue sound limiters
I have touched on this a little but I thought I’d list all the sound limiter pros and cons so you get the full picture. Let me start with the pros.
4. The pros of wedding venue sound limiters
- They do control excessive noise and overly noisy bands
- Lower volumes can mean it’s easier to socialise and enjoy certain aspects of your wedding
- You shouldn’t receive any noise complaints or have any issues with venue staff
- Many professional wedding entertainers, especially acoustic acts can usually perform with sound limiters set at a volume (decibel) limit of 95 and above
- Assuming the staff understand how to work the equipment, built in-venue sound limiters and PA systems can be easier for staff and wedding bands to use, making life simpler for you all
5. The cons of wedding venue sound limiters
- A sound limiter can either be constantly turning down your wedding entertainments equipment or shutting all their power and lights off for up to a minute and in extreme circumstances, 1 hour
- Total blackouts with no music and no lights can occur all night disrupting your wedding
- Sound limiters distract even professional wedding entertainers and will stifle their audio and visual performance
- If the volume is constant and excessive, your wedding entertainment could be asked to stop performing altogether and you could be given a verbal warning or even a fine from your venue
- Due to sound restrictions, you may be forced into booking certain types of wedding entertainer or live band
- Venues sound limiters and PA speaker systems sometimes must be used and there is no guarantee that the systems are of good quality, fully work or that the venue’s staff have any idea how to work them
- Bad sound limiter microphone placement or lack of knowledge from the venue staff can cause many unnecessary sound restriction issues
- Sound limiters can be triggered by crowd or guests volume alone
- After a limiter shuts off the power and/or lighting, it can sometimes take staff a long time to find the reset button on the limiter and bring power back on
- Due to lack of knowledge or fear of loss of business, some venues don’t always divulge having a sound limiter or how restrictive it is. Always ask a venue if they have a sound limiter
Few! A lot of cons there I’m afraid and one thing is for sure, no one ever fits a sound limiter because they want to or because they think it will improve their venue! They are like that unwanted guest at your party…
6. Should you avoid wedding venues with sound limiters?
We’d never advise avoiding a wedding venue just because they have a sound limiter but if you have a few venues on your shortlist and one doesn’t have a sound limiter, we’d always say that venue should be top of your list. It will just be better for you, your guests and your live wedding entertainment.
Many wedding venues install sound limiters that are easy to work with and flexible and in my 15 years’ experience, most sound limiters that are properly installed and managed by venue staff cause no major issues for live wedding bands. It’s not all doom and gloom thankfully!
7. What you need to ask your wedding venue about their limiter
If live entertainment is an important part of your day however, you need to check what kind of sound limiters and what their decibel (volume) limits are in any venue you are thinking of booking. Once you have that information, pass it onto your band or simply look at my handy infographic to see if the venue truly is “live music friendly”.
As a basic guide, venues with sound limiters set at 95 decibels or preferably higher are pretty live music-friendly and won’t hamper a live wedding band or entertainer too much. For example, our Rock and Indie wedding band League of Gentlemen (above) perform within 95 decibels or higher all the time. Any venues with a limit set to 90 decibels or lower aren’t live music-friendly and can be impossible for live bands and entertainers to work with.
Can’t my live wedding band simply just turn their volume down?
Your wedding band or live entertainment can and should always turn down equipment to stay within the decibel limit of a sound limiter but if your entertainment includes a drummer, percussionist or other fully acoustic instruments all they can do is play as quietly as possible with the rest of the band then preforming at similar volumes. If the sound limiters decibel limit is below 90 it won’t matter how quietly a drummer performs because even with a band playing quietly along, they will almost always be too loud, especially with crowd noise going on too.
Live wedding bands can only play so quietly
Trust me, I’ve been there as a drummer and I’ve sometimes been playing so quietly that it was basically pointless. Live bands can only turn down so much and as my infographic shows, 90 decibels equates to the volume of a single tractor so a standard four-piece wedding band like Playback (below) are going to struggle to collectively perform at that volume.
Almost no wedding band or entertainer could perform at 90 decibels and still deliver a great night for you all sadly.
8. Ways your live entertainers and venue can adapt to sound limiters for you
If your wedding venue does have a sound limiter, wedding musicians and entertainers do have a few tricks up their sleeves (aside from turning down) to cope with sound limiters. Here at Seventh Second, we try our utmost to deal with sound limiters in every way we can, your wedding will kick ass regardless of sound limiters with us around! Regardless, it’s important your wedding entertainers or live band get to speak to the venue if they have a sound limiter!
Live wedding band tricks
Almost all live wedding bands at Seventh Second have access to electric drum kits which can really help in the fight against sound limiters. Any professional wedding band should be able to source one for you so it’s worth asking. Alternatively, us drummers can also play with brushes or other special drum sticks that lower the volume of an acoustic drum kit to a degree.
Acoustic wedding bands
Another great way to help with the sound limiter blues is to hire a fantastic acoustic wedding band! Acts like Acoustic Captain (above) and Encore (below) are really popular and when not plugged into a PA speaker system are a lot quieter than your usual wedding band. Many also roam meaning they can wander around your wedding venue performing and avoiding sound limiters. Win-Win!
If you want to see some more fantastic acoustic wedding bands click here!
Wedding venue tricks
Wedding venues aren’t usually fans of their sound limiters as mentioned so they also have a few tricks up their sleeves and it’s worth talking about all the options with them too. Firstly, they can try and position the sound limiters microphone as far away as possible from the band performance area and sometimes even (whisper this) turn the microphone or sound limiter off.
Volume reduction sound limiters
Wedding venue staff who know how to operate their sound limiters properly, especially the volume reducing variety sometimes run the sound limiter into a built-in PA speaker system which your live wedding entertainment can use. It’s still not ideal but it is much simpler for the venue staff to control volume and your wedding entertainment to perform in the venue.
Our experience with sound limiters at wedding venues
You may have noticed that I’ve sprinkled this guide with a few stories of my experience with sound limiters over the years. With everyone here at Seventh Second performing at hundreds of weddings every year and with at least 40% of the wedding venues having sound limiters, we have a lot of experience with these pesky little boxes.
It’s hard to love sound limiters
No one here is going to say they like sound limiters but on the whole, they are usually manageable and we are still able to pretty much perform to our max for lovely wedding couples and their guests like you. We all have memories of rooms going dark, our sound switching off and gasps coming from the startled wedding guests. I’ve spent many minutes drumming away on my own in the pitch dark because despite our absolute best efforts, the sound limiter has somehow been tripped. It does happen, even to the best of wedding performers.
As musicians, our biggest concern for our wedding couples and their wedding guests is that with certain sound limiters in place, we can’t perform at our best. With at least 15% of the sound limiters we encounter being highly restrictive with limits set at 90 decibels or below, we can find it almost impossible to play to our fullest and deliver the best wedding party we can for wedding parties. It’s a shame but it’s the reality and worth thinking about.
Wedding venue staff
As mentioned us wedding bands and venue staff have a good few tricks up our sleeves to make everyone’s experience with sound limiters that little bit better but more often than not, the staff at wedding venues have not been trained and usually don’t even know where their sound limiters are. This isn’t their fault of course but management should have better knowledge so when asking a venue whether they have a sound limiter, make sure they give you the key bits of information below. I’ve mentioned this information before but it really is crucial for your wedding entertainment or live wedding band as every venues acoustics and sound limiter vary.
Ask your wedding venue:
- What kind of sound limiter they have and if they also have a PA system that must be used
- Where the limiter microphone is placed in relation to the performance area
- What the decibel (volume) limit of the limiter is
- What the limiter does when triggered
- Any inside knowledge or tips they have to offer
I’ve got enough on my wedding plate!
I understand you have a hectic time ahead of you organising your wedding and you’d rather not deal with this extra work. Who would?! Thankfully, many wedding venues have this information pre-prepared for you to read and send to your wedding entertainment. Simple!
Real-life sound limiter fun times
I thought I’d end my guide with one of my real-life wedding horror stories that got so ridiculous everyone just had a to take a breath and laugh at the situation. I hope it shows that no matter how awful a sound limiter can be, there’s always a funny side to it all and the fun times at weddings can never and shouldn’t be stopped!
I performed at a West Yorkshire mansion about 5 years ago and had been told about the sound limiter. Set at 93 decibels we knew could just about manage it and the friendly staff told us they had positioned the microphone as far away from us as possible so that meant we could probably get away with 95 to 98 decibels which while not ideal, was better!
An unhappy sound limiter
Soundcheck went well with us not even getting close to setting off the limiter but halfway through the first live set it suddenly tripped, cutting off all light and sound in the entire room for 15 seconds. Then it tripped again, and again and again and despite playing incredibly quietly, it kept tripping. It was ruining the fun and we could see that guests we starting to wonder why we had been booked! Worst wedding band ever right?!
During our break, I wandered off looking for the limiters microphone and checked the limiter was working correctly as it had been tripping way too much. I discovered that the reason it was tripping so much was because the microphone for it was placed at the other end of the room right above the busy and only bar. The constant crowd of people shouting drinks orders over our playing was tripping it!
Laugh and smile
There was no way to turn the limiter off so we made everyone aware that anytime the limiter cut all power, I would perform drum solos and sing-alongs for the crowd until the power came back on. It worked a treat and we all had a bit of fun whenever the limiter (regularly) cut the power during the rest of the night! I really hope the staff have since moved that limiters microphone away from the bar…
To sound limiter or to not sound limiter?
At the end of the day, sound limiters aren’t going anywhere and will only become more common so booking a venue that understands their limiter (which has a limit of 95 decibels and upwards) and choosing live wedding entertainment that’s knowledgeable and professional is your best chance of having a great night. Let’s be honest though, what you really want is a wedding venue that doesn’t have a sound limiter, so you can party hard and loud all night! Find one and you’re in for a great night of partying! Yes!
If you want to look at some fantastic live wedding entertainment that knows exactly how to handle any sound limiter click here and if you have any questions, comments or queries just ask! Thanks for reading and I hope this has helped you fully understand the pretty boring world of sound limiters. Enjoy a memorable wedding and if you liked what you read please consider sharing it with others.
Bye for now,
Matt and the Seventh Second Team