July 2016 Newsletter: Music Venue Noise Ordinance

With summer in full bloom, concert goers are headed out to listen to the season’s many indoor and outdoor concerts. The main attraction to these concerts is music, either from live bands or DJs. Not everyone in the area will find the music enjoyable, which is why regulations to minimize the impact of the sound to surrounding areas exist. During the design of music venues, many building owners are not aware of the noise regulations in place or the effect their venue can have on nearby residences. Read on to learn more about the regulations music venues must follow to keep the peace with neighboring properties.

Most concert venues bring in either live bands or Electronic Dance Music (EDM) artists. While the live bands are certainly loud, EDM has much more low frequency sound, which is very difficult to attenuate. An example at an attempt to control sound levels from these venues is the Philadelphia Noise Ordinance, which sets guidelines for how much sound is permitted at nearby properties.

 Photo Courtesy of Festival Pier
 The criteria is based on the existing background sound levels; to a residential receiver, the sound levels cannot be more than 5 dBA over the background.  If a venue is found in violation of the Noise Ordinance, the owner of the property can be fined daily until the issue is resolved at the complaining owner’s property line. In addition to the noise ordinance, more severe requirements are put in place by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania if the music venue serves liquor. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board requires that a licensee may not use amplified music that can be heard beyond the licensee’s property line. This criteria is significantly more difficult to achieve than the Philadelphia Noise Ordinance, and in many situations impossible. Even so, if this rule is violated and enough complaints are filed, the venue can lose their liquor license. These rules not only apply to indoor venues, but also to outdoor music venues.  Sound from outdoor music venues can travel far distances if the sound system is powerful enough. With nothing to block the sound and buildings to reflect off of, outdoor music venues can pose a serious problem.

So what does a venue owner do to ensure they are compliant with their local noise ordinance?  For indoor music venues, upgrading the exterior construction is important. Typically, the weakest link for sound transmission in most building facades are doors and windows. Using acoustically-rated doors or vestibules and acoustically-rated windows near the stage and seating areas can reduce the amount of sound that travels through these constructions. To reduce very low frequencies, a lot of mass is required, so the use of interior floating walls may do the trick.  For outdoor music venues, sound systems can be designed to minimize the sound propagating towards neighboring properties. While a sound barrier may seem to be an effective way to control the sound to neighboring properties, most of the time they are ineffective due to the location and height restrictions. While concerts are meant to be fun, being slapped with a noise violation is not. Concerts should be an enjoyable experience for all – including the neighbors.
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