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Noise Control: Dialing In California’s KAABOO Festival

A discussion on addressing challenges involved in community noise issues at large outdoor music events and insights on the strategies they employed.

By Live Sound Staff September 18, 2018

MGM Resorts Grandview Stage 2018 KAABOO festival. (Credit: Debi Del Grande)

PSW: How do system design and SPL limit practices focused on noise mitigation fare with audience expectations?

PV: Most audiences at urban music festivals are by now familiar with the concept of noise curfew (10 p.m. is the standard). SPL limits are a different story. High SPLs are integral to audiences’ sense of immersion and engagement, especially at large-scale music events.

Noise mitigation efforts need to recognize that barely meeting ordinance requirements while severely undermining the audience experience is a lose-lose! The way to go is to implement the system design and SPL limit strategies described earlier, permitting an event to meet its sonic obligations to both audiences and the community.

The only complication is that system design practices over several decades have “trained” audiences to expect unnaturally high loudness levels, regardless of and up to very large distances from a stage. Given noise mitigation needs, such expectations need to be curbed as unnatural and even harmful to festival goers, both aesthetically and health-wise.

SS: In many cases we can design a system to achieve both mitigation and sufficient audience experience. Utilizing the combination of K1SB and K1 together we can generate rejection behind, to the side, above and below and/or even asymmetrical LF output at KAABOO. Utilizing K1SB behind the main arrays it is capable of reducing the output by <20dB in the bottom 1.5-2 octaves of the main arrays.

AD: We have indeed found that audiences expect to hear music as soon as they see a stage. With our noise mitigation procedures & SPL limits in place, audiences are forced to move into the pre-determined audience areas to meet this expectation. Collaboration between festival site and audio designers is essential to best sync up the audio and visual experience for the audience, which is particularly challenging when using large IMAG screens. Also, there are some types of music that are typically performed at louder levels than feasible at KAABOO, which can be noticeable for some more experienced patrons.

PL: Audience expectations depend on type of music, how it is usually experienced, and how artists and sound engineers usually portray it. Understanding this helps us anticipate the types of issues we will be facing as we try to curb community noise and annoyance levels. We believe that appropriate system design and tuning and thoughtful mixing techniques can satisfy audience aesthetics and community demands without undermining the audience’s satisfaction or hearing health.

Compromises are occasionally made regarding the spread and orientation of the effective audience area, resulting in some festival goers not enjoying the full experience. Appropriate planning by the promoters (adding other activities at locations where the sound will be less than ideal) can compensate. It all boils down to transparent communication and good-old honest, trusting teamwork.

Red Hot Chili Peppers at KAABOO

SS: There are many ways to bring people closer to the show, we can simulate this with SPL, or width in the sound system or even with proximity. Bringing loudspeakers closer to the people, works very well to make the show feel more intimate and avoids adding additional offsite noise. Making the sonic panorama wider is the next evolution in sound design and once again adds an experience that doesn’t impact the community at large.

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