Managing sound effectively in your venue will enhance the live music experience for patrons, help you attract quality performers, and reduce the potential for conflict with neighbouring residents and businesses. This chapter provides background information on the regulation of noise in Victoria and achieving best practice sound management in your venue. It is important to note that every venue has a unique set of circumstances in relation to sound management, so it is wise to seek advice from a qualified acoustic engineer to ensure that your venue is compliant.
victorian legislation relevant to live music venues
The Environment Protection Act 2017
The Environment Protection Act 2017 (‘the Act’, in-force since July 2021) establishes an environment protection framework for noise pollution via primary two duties:
- The General Environmental Duty (‘the GED’, section 25 of the Act)
- The duty not to emit unreasonable or aggravated noise (section 166 of the Act)
These duties aim to ensure that all Victorians can sleep when necessary and enjoy the amenity of their property without disturbance from noise emitted by their neighbours.
What is amenity?
Amenity refers to the quality that an area has of being pleasant and agreeable. In addition to the environment protection framework, amenity is commonly protected by conditions in planning permits and planning schemes issued by local councils and liquor licences issued by the Victorian Liquor Commission.
The General Environmental Duty
The GED requires anyone in Victoria who is engaging in an activity that may give rise to risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution (including noise) or waste, to minimise those risks so far as reasonably practicable.
As a result, people in management and control of an operation or activity, such as a live music venue, music festival or events, that may create a risk of harm to people and the environment (amenity) through the emission of noise must understand and proactively manage that risk.
This could include implementing controls and systems to minimise the risk of harm from noise and its effects so far as reasonably practicable, using and maintaining those controls and systems responsibly. It also includes evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of noise controls. For example, by checking the performance of noise control measures when they are installed and over time.
When the initial risk of harm has been minimised so far as reasonably practicable, the operator then has an ongoing obligation to assess and manage that risk. This should include continual assessment of the risk, such as conducting regular equipment inspections and maintenance, periodic assessment of noise emissions, and taking opportunities for ongoing improvement by upgrading controls over time (such as installing newer noise management technology on the sound system or rig).
Refer to EPA publication 1695 Assessing and controlling risk: A guide for business and EPA’s website for more information on risk management.
EPA advises venue operators to consider the duty not to emit unreasonable noise, including any noise limits that apply to their venue when risk assessments and planning how to minimise risk so far as reasonably practicable. By appropriately minimising the risk associated with noise emissions venue operators can reduce the likelihood of emitting unreasonable noise.
The duty not to emit unreasonable noise relies on the definitions of ‘unreasonable noise’ in section 3(1) of the Act and prohibits the emission of noise determined to be ‘unreasonable noise’ under these definitions.
Unreasonable noise is defined in section 3(1)(a) of the Act as noise that is unreasonable having regard to the following factors—
(i) its volume, intensity or duration
(ii) its character
(iii) the time, place and other circumstances in which it is emitted
(iv) how often it is emitted
(v) any prescribed factors
An assessment of noise under the factors of unreasonable noise does not require the collection and assessment of quantitative measurement data. Instead, the factors are assessed based how they present to the human ear at a location where amenity is protected (such as a residential building or other noise sensitive area).
Under section 3(1)(b) unreasonable noise may also be defined as noise that is ‘prescribed to be unreasonable noise’ under the Environment Protection Regulations 2021 (‘the Regulations’). The Regulations incorporate the procedures in EPA publication 1826: Noise limit and assessment protocol for the control of noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises and entertainment venues (‘the Noise Protocol’) for determining noise limits for the following sources:
- Commercial, industrial and trade premises (Part I of the Noise Protocol)
- Indoor entertainment venues (Part II of the Noise Protocol)
- Outdoor entertainment venues and events Part II of the Noise Protocol)
As such, exceeding a determined noise limit for any of these sources is ‘prescribed to be unreasonable noise’.
It is important to note that for the purposes of determining noise limits using the Noise Protocol, a music venue will have separate noise limits for the noise associated with music (including patrons singing along with music) and the noise associated with plant (air conditioners, air compressors, waste disposal etc.). These separate noise limits are determined using Part I or Part II of the Noise Protocol.
It also is an offence for a person to emit or permit to be emit noise that is prescribed to be aggravated noise. See Section 168 of The Environment Protection Act 2017. The definition for aggravated noise and the measurement process can be found in the Noise Protocol.
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Noise Sensitive Area
A noise sensitive area (‘NSA’) is a location which is protected by noise limits determined using the noise protocol. The purpose of identifying noise sensitive areas is to clearly determine where sleep and amenity are to be protected. The following locations are examples of NSAs:
- a residential building
- a caretaker’s house
- a hospital
- a hotel, residential hotel or motel
- a specialist disability accommodation
- a corrective institution
- a tourist establishment, caravan park or campground
- a childcare centre, kindergarten, primary school or secondary school
The exact definition of noise sensitive area can be found in the Regulations (page 21).
Permit amenity conditions, the GED and the duty not to emit unreasonable noise require venue operators to consider the impact of all activities at the venue which can emit noise and impact on the amenity of surrounding neighbours, especially noise at night. Many of these issues can be dealt with through appropriate design and management of the venue, as outlined in the best practice section of this chapter.
When a complaint is made about noise emanating from a public premises and impacting an NSA or other amenity protected area, the relevant authority may measure the noise level at the NSA (or a suitable alternative assessment location as defined on page 18 and 25 of the Noise Protocol) and compare it with the relevant noise limit. For music noise, the authority will likely take these measurements during a performance. The noise limits for your venue will depend on your proximity to, the background sound levels at, and the land-use zoning surrounding, the measurement point.
Alternatively, the relevant authority may assess the noise based on the factors to determine if the noise is unreasonable.
In most cases, local councils handle noise complaints. However, the Victorian Police or the Liquor Commission (‘VLC’) may also become involved, as compliance with the Regulations and maintaining neighbourhood amenity is a condition of a venue’s liquor licence. The VLC may conduct a public inquiry into whether the operations of a licensed venue are detracting from the amenity of an area. In making a determination, the VLC may consider a number of factors, including evidence that noise associated with the venue is disturbing neighbouring businesses or residents. In cases where license venues are found to be non-compliant, the VLC may cancel, suspend or vary the licence.
Serious cases of non-compliance may also be referred to local police. Subject to privacy laws, local council, the VLC and local police may communicate with each other as deemed necessary for the satisfactory resolution of noise-related issues.
The Victorian Police can also issue charges relating to breaches of the amenity conditions on a liquor license as defined in Section 11 (b) the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (Permit liquor to be brought into/consumed or supplied on licensed premises not in accordance with licence).
The Police also have powers under the Section 169 of The Environment Protection Act 2017 to enter the entertainment venue; and direct any person apparently in charge of the entertainment venue to take any action that the police officer reasonably considers necessary to abate the unreasonable noise.
Agent of Change
Since the State Government implemented the Agent of Change Particular Provision into Planning Law in September 2014, responsibility for noise attenuation measures required in order to obtain planning approval will now rest with the ‘agent of change’.
In practical terms this means that if a live music venue seeks to expand, they will be responsible for attenuating any noise effects that are caused by that change. Similarly, a new residential planning proposal close to a live music venue will be responsible for noise attenuation.
A Planning Practice Note assist planning applicants and decision makers decide how to address the agent of change principle when preparing an application or considering a residential proposal at or close to a live music venue.
There are a number of steps that you can take to manage sound effectively in your venue, which are
- Consider the proximity of neighbours and how it will affect your live music schedule. Remember that businesses generally have the same rights to neighbourhood amenity as residences.
- Assess the building’s acoustic insulation to determine if any renovations will be required to comply with noise regulations. See the Resources section of this chapter for further information.
- Remember to check the building’s electrical supply, plumbing and other utilities to ensure they
comply with the Building Code of Australia. It is worth ensuring compliance on these levels before installing acoustic insulation to avoid expensive retrofitting.
- Engage an acoustic engineering consultant to establish sound limits for your venue that ensure you comply with your environmental duties and the noise regulations. Acoustic consultants can also provide advice on reducing the sound that emanates from your venue.
Upgrade the building as needed
- Install high-density acoustic insulation in the walls, ceiling and floor surrounding live music areas, particularly external walls that are close to neighbours. Ideally, you should be able to walk the perimeter of your venue at any time and hear minimal sound emanating from the premises.
- Install sound absorbing materials such as heavy drapes and carpet in live music areas to reduce reverberation and minimise the build-up of sound.
- Install acoustic or ‘air-lock’ doors at the entry points to the live music area, venue, or other outdoor areas to limit the break-out of sound.
- Seal any gaps where sound might be escaping, including around doors and windows, or utility inlet and outlet vents, particularly through air conditioning ducts.
Use appropriate equipment
- Use a PA system that is appropriate for the size of the venue and relevant noise limits. Devices such as limiters, warning lights, compressors and cut-out switches can also help you maintain PA volume at a suitable level.
- Use equalisation devices to control the low frequency sound generated by drums and bass instruments, which is difficult to insulate against and is often accompanied by vibration.
- Enclose or replace noisy utilities such as air conditioning units and compressors that may disturb neighbours.
Develop a sound management strategy
- Use a sound level meter to take regular sound measurements from reference points both inside and outside the venue during live shows and adjust sound levels accordingly. Keeping a record of these measurements in a ‘noise diary’ also demonstrates your commitment to noise compliance, which will be useful if dealing with any noise complaints or planning to upgrade the entertainment area in your venue.
- Educate staff on sound management principles, such as monitoring on-stage sound levels, managing patron noise in outdoor areas, and disposing of recycling quietly.
- Ensure your booking agent only books acts that are appropriate for your venue. For example, hosting a metal band in a venue set up for folk music will invariably result in noise complaints.
- Inform musicians at the booking stage (possibly as part of the performance contract) about sound management practices in your venue, including relevant noise limits and any PA limiting devices, such as compressors and cut-out switches.
- Manage outdoor areas to prevent large groups of patrons gathering and making noise that could annoy neighbouring residents. This could include not permitting alcohol in outdoor areas after a given time, mounting signs that encourage patrons to be quiet in outdoor areas, or installing Perspex reflectors to reflect reflect crowd noise away from neighbours.
- Be proactive in building a positive relationship with local authorities and residents to address noise-related issues before they escalate (see chapter 2 of these guidelines for further information).
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For further information on the Environment Protection Framework for noise visit: https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/for-community/environmental-information/noise
The following legislation and EPA Victoria and guidelines are also available:
- The Environment Protection Act 2017
- Environment Protection Regulations 2021
- Commerce industry and trade noise guidelines
- Entertainment venue and outdoor event music noise guidelines
- Noise limit and assessment protocol for the control of noise from commercial, industrial and trade premises and entertainment venues (publication 1826)
- Technical guide: Measuring and analysing industry noise and music noise (publication 1997)
- Noise guidelines: Assessing low frequency noise (publication 1996)
- Assessing and controlling risk: a guide for business (publication 1695)
- Reasonably practicable (publication 1856)
For information on the acoustic properties of building materials, visit: www.gyprock.com.au/solutions/acoustic-considerations
For information on complying with the Building Code of Australia, visit: www.abcb.gov.au
As a starting point, search the internet for ‘acoustic consultant Victoria’. The relevant industry bodies are the Australian Acoustical Society and the Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants. Your local council may also be able to recommend an acoustic consultant.
As a starting point, search the internet for ‘structural engineer Victoria’. The relevant industry body is the Association of Consulting Structural Engineers Victoria. PA/electro-acoustic suppliers As a starting point, search the internet for ‘public address system suppliers Victoria’.
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