Music to Your Ears: Noise Monitoring at Your Event

Julian Spear is a co-founder and director of Symphotech With over 40 years of experience within the events industry, Julian is lead consultant for the company’s production and procurement offering, and a specialist in noise consultancy and orchestral sound design. From Glastonbury to The Jockey Club Live, Julian has experience working on some of the industry’s biggest events. Keeping the noise in check at your event doesn’t have to be a chore, and it shouldn’t lessen the enjoyment of your guests. Here, Julian Spear writes about monitoring noise at your event, and the factors you must take into account to ensure this is effective.

Music events and festivals inherently produce sound levels that are much higher than normal and it’s important that organisers are able to monitor the total noise produced by their event, in order to minimise disruption within the local area.

It is necessary that events comply with the requirements of the noise council guidelines that the local authorities set as their licensing requirements. This can often be a minefield for organisers. We recently worked with X Music Festival for the first time who, following a series of previous noise complaints, called upon our team to ensure the event met license conditions and festival noise control obligations.

As well as creating a noise plan for the event, we were also on hand to take continuous noise readings at all three stages throughout the day. Situated next to the sound desk, we worked with the sound engineering crews to make sure the sound levels were kept under control. We also monitored four sensitive areas around the park, where we utilised our specialist equipment to observe the frequencies offsite, and reported back to our team onsite at the sound desk with the frequencies causing the problem when noise levels became too loud.

If a complaint does come in, having noise monitoring experts onsite means they are able to attend the location of the complaint and monitor the frequencies at that specific location, quashing any further dispute or ensuring particular frequencies are controlled.

We also made certain that Noise at Work regulations were being met, by ensuring that staff were being rotated and getting proper breaks, and that pit crew and stage staff were wearing proper ear protection. With a reduction in noise complaints to zero at this year’s event, the importance of getting your noise levels under control is clear.

According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, in an environment where workers are normally exposed to sound levels of 80 dB(A) or over, employers are obliged to warn staff of the dangers of cumulative sound pressure hearing loss, and provide them with ear protection.

You have to also consider noise levels for the audience. With a whole day of music with no breaks, it’s important that your guests aren’t left with ringing in their ears. There is a happy medium, it has to be a reasonable level for people to enjoy it; if you go to a gig you want to feel the energy of the music, but there is a point when it becomes so loud that it can become damaging. We work with engineers to get specific frequencies under control, rather than ordering the music to be turned down. This is the difference with having a background in sound engineering – we can speak their language and they understand where we’re coming from. It works really well.

Unlike workers, the audience has no specific legislation protecting them from exposure to extremely high noise levels, however the HSE lay down strong recommendations that the A-weighted equivalent continuous sound level over the duration of the event (Event LAeq) in any part of the audience area should not exceed 107 dB, and the C-weighted peak sound pressure level should not exceed 140 dB. It also suggests that the audience and loudspeaker separation distance should never be less than 1m. Having a noise monitoring specialist on site can help you ensure legislations such as these are being adhered to, and your audience, artists and workers are all protected.

Before your event, a Noise Risk Assessment should be created. Amongst other things, this must show the location of all stages and marquees where music will played and must show the steps you’ve taken to minimise the impact on the noise sensitive areas identified. Local residents must also be notified a month in advance and given a date and time of the event and a contact number for the person to whom complaints can be made.

If a dispute does occur, the noise data collected can be used as evidence that licensing conditions were being met and the sound was under control. The data is recorded and logged and sent to the local council so they get a tamper proof document with the conclusion of the noise from the event, which gives them piece of mind that it’s being carefully considered and, if needs be, can be used to support cases which may end in court.

There are also occasions when the local authority put unrealistic noise limits on the venue and we can help in the planning stages of resolving those issues. This came up recently whilst doing the planning for a series of shows at Aintree Racecourse where we discovered that the background noise levels of the road outside the nearest resident were higher than the limit set on the license conditions. Through evidence acquired by logging the traffic noise, we were able to negotiate higher limits on the license.

With so much to consider when putting on a live event or festival, keeping your noise levels under control doesn’t have to be a complex task. Ensuring you have noise monitoring specialists on hand to help with pre-event planning and onsite noise monitoring is vital for the wellbeing of your workers and attendees. This also helps minimise disruption to residents and businesses within the local area, which can help ensure the longevity of your event. Noise monitoring experts can help you strike the perfect balance – ensuring the enjoyment of your guests isn’t compromised, whilst making sure certain local residents don’t miss out on their beauty sleep.