Noise complaints have hit the headlines throughout the 2023 festival season, threatening the future of some events. How can festivals deliver a great time without disturbing their neighbours?

The summer of 2023 has seen some festivals making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While there have been plenty of wonderful experiences for audiences up and down the UK, there have been a few high-profile examples where local residents have suffered from uncontrolled audio spreading for miles from the festival site.

Festival sound levels are monitored like never before with noise management plans established before the event is granted a licence and inspectors on the ground ensuring that sound levels stay within the approved range. These can lead to lower SPLs on site in a bid to avoid excessive sound spill into the surrounding areas. While this can work well for the neighbours, it can also lead to disappointing experiences for the artists and audience at the festival.

Over the last decade we have witnessed the rise of an alternative option. When Martin Audio released MLA in 2010, the manufacturer created new possibilities for sound field optimisation. The multi-award winning system has helped the manufacturer to lead the field of optimised audio with further formats of MLA released and subsequently joined by Wavefront Precision that extended the flexibility of the optimisation process through scalable resolution.

Martin Audio’s optimisation relies on a patented algorithm that allows for multiple goals to be set by the user, while systematically calculating the necessary parameters to closely match those goals. By understanding the venue and the user goals of the system, DISPLAY software starts by analysing every possible combination of inter-cabinet angles of the array, checks the result using the computer model of the arrays and compares it to the desired response.

Building on this, a second stage also uses numerical optimisation, but also addresses the EQ, FIR, gain and phase parameters available in the DSP of the system, to achieve the desired response set by the system designer. The unique digital algorithm examines thousands of batches of possible results, gradually honing all parameters until it reaches a result which is as close as possible to the specifications that the system designer has requested. “Our analysis has shown that competitor optimisation solutions are unable to get to the granularity of desired outcome, so in like for like situations Martin Audio will deliver a more exacting solution”, said Dom Harter, Managing Director.

It is this solution that has allowed system techs and FOH engineers to overcome some of the challenges that they face with noise restrictions. With an optimised sound system covering a defined area, it is possible to have higher SPLs for the audience area while also experiencing significant reductions outside that space. It is this level of control that has led to festivals like BST in London’s Hyde Park being given a new lease of life after once being considered “unworkable”.

For the 2023 edition of American Express presents BST Hyde Park,the 9-day festival saw acts like Pink, Guns N’ Roses, Take That, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Billy Joel headlining on the main stage. With the Royal Park’s central London location surrounded by hotels, offices and residential properties, there is a challenging offsite level of 75dB (LAeq5) which the festival must adhere to. Thanks to the optimisation available with the MLA system used for the festival, the performers were able to entertain their audiences in the way they wanted to and the number of complaints reduced.

“Ipersonally walk the site—particularly when the headline act comes on stage—to satisfy myself that we are achieving the best sound coverage possible, and I have no doubt that we delivered an amazing audio experiencefor our audiences,” says Dave Grindle, venue director and co-CEO of BST management company, LS Events. “Given that we’re working in an urban environment which is surrounded by densely populated residential areas, the numbers of complaints have been remarkably low. The tech teams work hard to achieve a balance of an incredible experience for the fans while remaining within the licence conditions and minimising the impact on our neighbours.”

It was a similar experience for the organisers of Japan Jam, a rock festival held at Chiba City’s Soga Sports Park over Japan’s Golden Week holidays. As with BST, the venue is surrounded by heavily populated residential and commercial areas so emphasis needed to be placed on tight noise control, to prevent sound from escaping into the adjoining neighbourhood.

“We had to control sound escape outside the venue to an unprecedented level, but [with Martin Audio’s DISPLAY optimisation software] the results were easy to obtain,” recalls MSI Japan chairman, Shuzo Fujii, who was in charge of the Japan Jam system. “Inside the audience field the audio experience was completely different to outside the perimeter. It was amazing how much sound pressure and quality was provided to avoid it leaking out. I felt that this outdoor festival was a moment that once again proved the high level of MLA’s controllability.”

It’s not only with festivals in densely populated areas where optimisation plays a useful role. For festivals with multiple stages an optimised system helps organisers to avoid spillage between performance areas so that audiences can focus on the act they want to see. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Glastonbury where MLA and Wavefront Precision arrays are used across a variety of stages.

“The technology behind Martin Audio MLA and Wavefront Precision allows us to deliver a full range intimate experience at 350m from the pyramid stage and yet within 50m of the edge of the arena, we can reduce the levels up to 15dB and even lower beyond,” explains Simon Honywill, audio consultant for Glastonbury. “The accuracy of this system is unmatched; it’s like stepping through an invisible door as the sound rapidly fades around you.”

With over a decade of festival experience behind it, optimisation is a trusted and proven method of avoiding noise complaints while also keeping FOH engineers, artists, promoters and audiences happy. When you combine this technology with the undeniable audio quality of Martin Audio you will ultimately achieve a successful and profitable festival.

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Photo Credit-

Lee Perry: Photo 1-2 (Glastonbury 2023)

Awais Butt: Photo 3 (BST Hyde Park 2023)

Gus Stewart: Photo 4 (BST Hyde Park 2023)

Photo 5-6 (Japan Jam 2023)

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