Festival Noise Limits

And as the festival season rolls to an end, it was nice to arrive at a civilised festival with reasonable noise restrictions that allowed engineers to mix happily!
It is one of the unfortunate features of most European festivals that very strict noise levels are imposed on most events. I am not saying this is wrong, but it can be frustrating when the level is what I, and many of my colleagues, would consider too low, or in some cases unobtainable! Levels vary from country to country, from region to region and festival to festival.
This year, in Sweden, I was presented with one of my lowest ever levels of 97dBA over 60 minutes. The reason for it being lower than the normal Swedish level is that the concert was open to under-13 year olds. My band went on stage at 1 am, few under 18’s in the audience and certainly no pre-teens. It was a struggle, and to be honest we didn’t quite manage it – but debates over metering accuracy saved us, and the festival, from a fine.
So, to the average festival-goer, what do these levels mean? The ‘A’ refers to weighting, which imposes a curve on the result in an effort to account for the way the human ear perceives the relative loudness of a sound. The ear is less sensitive to low frequencies, so this is taken into consideration by the weighting.
For sound engineers like me this is helpful as most of my acts feature large amounts of low end, which is relatively ignored by the metering. The period over which this reading is taken is crucial as it is an averaged level taken over the time specified.
If you are lucky enough to get a period of 60 minutes, it’s great as it gives you the chance to build the set, using the highs and lows to balance out the average. 10 or even 5-minute readings are a nightmare – two loud songs in a row and you are over the limit.
So, in Paris, we finished the season with 105dBA over 30 minutes. I ran the show as loud as I wanted and still came in under the level. It was so refreshing to have the freedom to mix the show at a level I thought fit, building the volume throughout the set, maintaining a dynamic. Vive Rock en Seine!

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