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The Nutty Brown Cafe: Noise Measurements and Comparison to Acoustical Criteria

Summary

On the evening of November 6, 2009, I visited several residences in the area around the Nutty Brown Cafe to make an objective determination of noise impacts.  Using a professional, scientific sound level meter, I measured sound levels at a residence approximately 1200 feet from the stage.

I compared the measured levels to 3 criteria for noise disturbance:  The Austin Noise Ordinance;  The Word Health Organizations Guidelines for Community Noise; and the German DIN 45680 standard for low-frequency noise exposure assessment.  In all 3 comparisons, sound from the Nutty Brown was found to exceed criteria by substantial margins.

Introduction

In 2006 a new stage was added to the Nutty Brown Cafe near Dripping Springs, turning it into an important concert venue.  Since then, people in the community have complained about the sound levels of music from the Nutty Brown, and it has become a very contentious issue. Many complaints have been made by upset neighbors, including a number of complaints filed with the TABC.

As the Nutty Brown and its neighbors are in an unincorporated area, there are no applicable noise ordinances; counties in Texas are simply not permitted to have them.  The TABC, however, does have a provision for noise, as follows:

Sec. 101.62. OFFENSIVE NOISE ON PREMISES. No licensee or permittee, on premises under his control, may maintain or permit a radio, television, amplifier, piano, phonograph, music machine, orchestra, band, singer, speaker, entertainer, or other device or person that produces, amplifies, or projects music or other sound that is loud, vociferous, vulgar, indecent, lewd, or otherwise offensive to persons on or near the licensed premises.

In internet conversations on the issue, it is commonly held that residents of the new Belterra development are to blame for the complaints against The Nutty Brown.  This is only partially true.  In reality, residents from all of the communities surrounding the Nutty Brown have filed complaints. Contrary to popular belief, most complainants are not from California, do not live in Belterra, and have lived in the area since before 2006. In some cases, long before 2006.

Conversation on this topic is frequently emotionally charged and lacking in independent facts.  It is the goal of Austin Noise to encourage objective conversation on community noise by providing scientifically based opinions and analysis and, when possible, to provide objective data.  Therefore I determined that it would be in keeping with the mission of Austin Noise to perform my own measurements during a concert at the Nutty Brown and share the results publicly. I contacted some homeowners near The Nutty Brown and conducted a set of measurements the evening of Friday, November 6.

During conversations with various homeowners during the evening, they all indicated that the sound levels from the Nutty Brown were below typical that evening.  This agrees with my own assessment, as I visited some of these residences to perform measurements last year and I remember the music having been louder.  Nevertheless, the data collected this night shows significant noise impacts at the measurement location.

Measurement Procedure

I conducted sound level measurements using a Larson Davis model 824 ANSI Type I sound level meter.  This is a very accurate, scientific instrument that I am quite familiar with.  My measurements will be more reliable than those conducted by someone untrained in acoustics wielding a Type II or Type III meter, such as what you might buy from Radio Shack.  My employer was kind enough to lend me the meter over the weekend for this project.

The measurement location was 1180 feet from the Nutty Brown Cafe’s stage, and significantly off-axis.  By off-axis, I mean the stage was not pointing at my location.  In other words, measurements taken on-axis would likely yield higher sound levels.  Following the path between the stage and the measurement location, the property line of the Nutty Brown is 320 feet from the stage.

The measurement location was relatively shielded by topography from traffic noise emitted by Highway 290. This was very beneficial, as it allowed a more definite determination of noise levels caused by music from the Nutty Brown.  During the measurement, it was clear by observation that music from the Nutty Brown was the dominant sound source at the measurement location.

The sound level meter ran continuously through the show (except during a 20-minute period due to a depleted battery), collecting data in 5-minute intervals.  Sound data was recorded in octave band, third-octave band, Leq, Lmax, Lmin, and statistical levels L1, L5, L10, L50, L90, and L99.  This is a very complete set of data that Type II and Type III meters are usually not even capable of producing.

Keep in mind that this is a single set of data, collected on a single night, in a single location.  A comprehensive study would include data collected on multiple nights and in multiple locations.  Even so, the single set of data should be sufficient to give a good idea of the types of sound levels the Nutty Brown exposes its neighbors to.

Criteria

The applicable standard is the TABC restriction on offensive noise.  In particular, sound that is “loud… or otherwise offensive to persons on or near the licensed premises.” While “loud” is a somewhat subjective term, it is still possible to make an objective determination of whether a sound can be considered “loud.”

There are many studies and standards that relate measurable sound levels to human annoyance, sleep disturbance, and hearing damage.  I compare my measured levels against 3 criteria, each of which presents a different, testable version of “loud.”  The selected criteria are:

  1. Austin Noise Ordinance – This criteria is familiar to people in the area.  Also, the owner of the Nutty Brown claims to follow the Austin ordinance voluntarily. The Nutty Brown is not in city limits and therefore not required to abide by the Austin ordinance.
  2. World Health Organization Guidelines for Community Noise – The WHO compiled a large collection of research papers and texts on acoustics and community noise, then determined a representative set of recommended criteria for community noise regulation.
  3. DIN 45680 – This is a German standard for the measurement and evaluation of low-frequency noise emissions in neighborhoods.  I selected this standard based on a 2005 study by P. McCullough and J. O. Hetherington that compared the relative performances of various objective noise criteria for assessing disturbance due to entertainment music.  The study determined that DIN 45680 performed best at predicting subjective assessment of nuisance.

While valid arguments can be made for the appropriateness of all of these criteria (and dozens of other available criteria), the determination of what is acceptable ultimately falls under the responsibility of the TABC.  I don’t know what methodology they use, or if they even have one. I would like to think that their decision process is objective, rather than political.

A secondary criterion at play comes from the Texas Penal Code, which states that once a person has been warned about creating noise, they may not produce sound in excess of “85 decibels.”  The Penal Code does not define decibels, leaving its interpretation open.  In acoustics, “decibels” can mean a number of things.  Although it presents a numeric criterion, it will likely not come into play in the decision process of the TABC.

Nutty Brown vs Austin Noise Ordinance

To be clear, The Nutty Brown is not in the Austin city limits and not required to abide by the Austin Noise Ordinance.  I make this comparison because people in the Austin area might be familiar with the ordinance, and because the owner of The Nutty Brown has stated that he voluntarily follows the ordinance in an effort to be a good neighbor.

If The Nutty Brown were within city limits, it would presumably be considered either a restaurant or a permitted outdoor music venue.  You may recall that establishments such as Freddie’s and Shady Grove have struggled with the “restaurant” classification, which is held to a lower sound level limit due to a zoning restriction.  We will examine both criteria.

A restaurant with live entertainment must not exceed “70 decibels,” as measured at any point along its property line. A permitted music venue must not exceed “85 decibels,” as measured at any point along its property line.  The Austin ordinance defines “decibels” as sound pressure level using A-weighting and the “slow” impulse response.  This translates to the Lmax value of a measurement using the slow response in dBA.

I did not measure directly at the property line.  However, knowing the absolute distances between the measurement point, the property line, and the stage, it is possible to calculate sound pressure levels at the property line due to music from the stage.  This has the benefit of removing the impact of traffic noise from the measured values, thereby making this method potentially more accurate than measurements taken at the actual property line.

To calculate property line noise levels, I used the method for outdoor sound propagation specified by Hoover & Keith in Noise Control for Buildings and Manufacturing Plants. This method takes frequency, atmospheric conditions (temperature and humidity), and anomalous excess attenuation into account.  It is considered to be quite accurate.

Since my data was recorded in 5-minute intervals, each 5-minute period yielded a unique value for Lmax.  Below are the calculated values for Lmax at the Nutty Brown property line shown against the 70 dBA and 85 dBA standards.

Nutty Brown vs Austin Ordinance

The lower levels between 8:55 and 9:25 represent the time between the opening act and the headlining band, while recorded music was being played over the PA.  All Lmax values recorded while performers were on stage indicate exceedance of the Austin Noise Ordinance at both the 70 dBA and 85 dBA threshholds.

Nutty Brown vs The World Health Organization

The WHO publishes a set of guidelines for community noise regulation.  It is based on a study of hundreds of scientific papers, texts, and standards dealing with community noise and human noise response.  The set of guidelines most applicable to the Nutty Brown situation is Dwellings, which is derived from studies on sleep disturbance and human annoyance responses.

From Section 4.2.3 Sleep Disturbance Effects, of Guidelines For Community Noise:

Measurable effects on sleep start at background noise
levels of about 30 dB LAeq. Physiological effects include changes in the pattern of sleep stages,
especially a reduction in the proportion of REM sleep. Subjective effects have also been
identified, such as difficulty in falling asleep, perceived sleep quality, and adverse after-effects
such as headache and tiredness. Sensitive groups mainly include elderly persons, shift workers
and persons with physical or mental disorders.
Where noise is continuous, the equivalent sound pressure level should not exceed 30 dBA
indoors, if negative effects on sleep are to be avoided. When the noise is composed of a large
proportion of low-frequency sounds a still lower guideline value is recommended, because lowfrequency
noise (e.g. from ventilation systems) can disturb rest and sleep even at low sound
pressure levels.

Measurable effects on sleep start at background noise levels of about 30 dB LAeq. Physiological effects include changes in the pattern of sleep stages, especially a reduction in the proportion of REM sleep. Subjective effects have also been identified, such as difficulty in falling asleep, perceived sleep quality, and adverse after-effects such as headache and tiredness. Sensitive groups mainly include elderly persons, shift workers and persons with physical or mental disorders. Where noise is continuous, the equivalent sound pressure level should not exceed 30 dBA indoors, if negative effects on sleep are to be avoided. When the noise is composed of a large proportion of low-frequency sounds a still lower guideline value is recommended, because low frequency noise (e.g. from ventilation systems) can disturb rest and sleep even at low sound pressure levels…

If the noise is not continuous, LAmax or SEL are used to indicate the probability of noise induced awakenings. Effects have been observed at individual LAmax exposures of 45 dB or less. Consequently, it is important to limit the number of noise events with a LAmax exceeding 45 dB. Therefore, the guidelines should be based on a combination of values of 30 dB LAeq,8h and 45 dB LAmax. To protect sensitive persons, a still lower guideline value would be preferred when the background level is low. Sleep disturbance from intermittent noise events increases with the maximum noise level. Even if the total equivalent noise level is fairly low, a small number of noise events with a high maximum sound pressure level will affect sleep.

Therefore, to avoid sleep disturbance, guidelines for community noise should be expressed in terms of equivalent sound pressure levels, as well as LAmax/SEL and the number of noise events. Measures reducing disturbance during the first part of the night are believed to be the most effective for reducing problems in falling asleep.

From Section 4.2.7 Annoyance Responses

During the daytime, few people are seriously annoyed by activities with LAeq levels below 55 dB; or moderately annoyed with LAeq levels below 50 dB. Sound pressure levels during the evening and night should be 5–10 dB lower than during the day. Noise with low frequency components require even lower levels. It is emphasized that for intermittent noise it is necessary to take into account the maximum sound pressure level as well as the number of noise events.

These observations are combined into a set of guidelines in section 4.3.1 Dwellings

In dwellings, the critical effects of noise are on sleep, annoyance and speech interference. To avoid sleep disturbance, indoor guideline values for bedrooms are 30 dB LAeq for continuous noise and 45 dB LAmax for single sound events. Lower levels may be annoying, depending on the nature of the noise source. The maximum sound pressure level should be measured with the instrument set at “Fast”.

At night, sound pressure levels at the outside façades of the living spaces should not exceed 45 dB LAeq and 60 dB LAmax, so that people may sleep with bedroom windows open. These values have been obtained by assuming that the noise reduction from outside to inside with the window partly open is 15 dB.

To protect the majority of people from being seriously annoyed during the daytime, the sound pressure level on balconies, terraces and outdoor living areas should not exceed 55 dB LAeq for a steady, continuous noise. To protect the majority of people from being moderately annoyed during the daytime, the outdoor sound pressure level should not exceed 50 dB LAeq…

My measurements were taken near a residence, and are representative of other nearby residences.  Therefore, the raw measured values can be compared directly to the criteria.  Since the intruding sound is music with significant low-frequency content, the limits should be lowered.  However, even without adjusting for low frequency content, the measured limits exceed these guidelines significantly, and it is not necessary to account for the nature of the sound to see that the criteria are not being exceeded.

Sleep disturbance is the more important criterion.  One complaint I heard often from residents was that music from the Nutty Brown made sleep difficult, especially for children.  Measured levels are compared to the WHO sleep disturbance criteria in the following chart.  The dark blue line is Leq, or the time-weighted average, and should be compared to the dotted light blue line at 45 dBA.  The dark green line is Lmax with the meter set to fast response, and should be compared to the dotted light green line at 60 dBA.

Nutty Brown vs WHO Sleep

Both criteria for sleep disturbance were exceeded for every measured interval, sometimes by as much as 20 dB.  This is based on the assumption of a partially open window.  A closed window would allow for an additional 5 to 10 dB.  It is not surprising, then, that residents in the area frequently complain of sleep disturbance.

Nutty Brown vs DIN 45680

The German criterion DIN 45680 (Deutsches Institut für Norman, 1997) is frequently used to assess human annoyance due to low-frequency noise.  Rather than a single A-weighted value, the criterion uses 1/3-octave values between 10 Hz and 80 Hz.  The values in the curve represent the 50% auditory threshold.  Measured values that exceed the criterion curve can be considered annoying or disturbing by a significant fraction of the population.

For comparison to the DIN curve, measured 1/3-octave Leq values for all intervals recorded when a performer was on the stage were combined into time-weighted averages.  Those values were then reduced by 15 dB to simulate outdoor to indoor reduction through a building shell with a partially-open window (borrowed from WHO).  This is a very conservative method, since residential building shells are usually more transparent to sound at such low frequencies.

Nutty Brown vs DIN 45680

The bump at 50Hz and 63Hz is very typical for live music.  These are the frequencies that are responsible for the majority of complaints from people who live near music venues.  Even with a conservative outdoor to indoor noise reduction estimate, the 63Hz band still exceeds the criterion by more than 20 dB.

People who live further from the Nutty Brown, such as those in Belterra, complain about low frequency noise, which permeates their houses.  Reportedly, this effect occurs even several miles away.  This is not unusual for outdoor venues in quiet areas and the data seems to support such claims.

Conclusions

In every test, criteria was exceeded by significant amounts.  Even the Austin Noise Ordinance, which is heavily skewed to favor the noise source, was exceeded by at least 5 dB at a point over 300 feet from the stage.  For all tests, conservative assumptions and methods for estimation and calculation were used.  A more comprehensive analysis would likely determine greater impacts.

Comparing the measured levels to all 3 criteria suggests that noise from the Nutty Brown is not just loud, but very loud. In my professional experience, I don’t recall ever seeing this level of noise impact at a residence from a music venue over 1000 feet away.

With or without my personal interpretations, the data is clear and presented here for use in the discussion by anyone who would like to use it. Also, I will be happy to share any portion of my data or perform comparisons to additional criteria at anyone’ s request.

17 Comments

  1. [...] a little late, but I just found this forum while searching on the topic of the Nutty Brown. I did exactly what you suggested. Last Friday I made measurements at a residence during a show at the Nutty Brown and I wrote the [...]

  2. Interesting article and very detailed. I’m curious, setting all measurements aside, did you have a personal opinion of the noise, as measured by just your ears. And would you think it too loud if you were a resident in one of the closer homes and/or further away at Belterra? In other words, if NB music were to stay the same for the next 5-10 years, would it affect your personal decision to purchase a home in the area?

    Steve

    • Due to the topography and the orientation of the stage, it’s difficult to determine what residences receive excessive noise. It’s more complicated than just what is closer and what is further. At the location I made the measurements, it was clearly loud enough to affect someone’s ability to sleep, which would make selling his property more difficult. But there are other homes in the area where the sound from the NB would probably be acceptable to a lot of people. There’s really no general answer to your question; it depends entirely on the exposure of the individual home in question.

    • Sarah says:

      The noise DID affect our decision of which lot to buy in Belterra. The noise now doesn’t affect us because we can only hear it about twice a month and it isn’t loud enough to hear inside the house. We like what Nutty Brown brings to the community but this has been a devastating issue for those who have lived peacefully near NB for years and, since 2006, have their children kept up at night by the noise. No easy answers!

  3. Carmen says:

    Thank you so much for bringing some facts to this contentious issue. As long term residents (not of Belterra and not from California!)it has been extremely frustrating to see the low levels to which the arguments around this issue have reached. And to answer Steve, if we had known what the noise levels were going to be after Nutty Brown built its new stage, and how much stress this was going to cause, it definitely would have effected our deicision to purchase. I hope the surrounding builders, real estate agents and others who rely on their incomes to sell in this area will pay serious attention to this issue and lend a helping hand.

  4. Dave427 says:

    Joshua – Finally, someone with some truly objective data! Thank you for doing this. We bought a house 1.5 miles away from Nutty Brown 5 years ago and if we had known of the noise issue, it most definitely would have affected our decision on where to buy. We spent a lot of money to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and to enjoy the quiet of nature, but on weekends, that is not possible with Nutty Brown blaring away. Thanks again for all your hard work, Joshua.

  5. Steve says:

    Thank you for your time an effort. It would be interesting for you to do your evaluation when a big headliner is performing in the summer time as they play louder. Not sure the areas where you checked, but Heritage Oaks gets it real bad with prevailing winds blowing to the northwest.

  6. Jeff says:

    All this info you provide is nice, but will not weigh in any TABC court decision. Nutty Brown has been part of the community for many years and works with many charitable organizations throughout the year. In fact, the show at which you did your mesurments was a show by The Randy Rogers Band that helped raise almost $20,000 for Amber Lynn Fett. She is a Dripping Springs student that suffers from Cystric Fibrosis. She recieved a lung transfer a few weeks ago that this show helped pay for. Sure would suck to see this kind of stuff go away.

    Nutty Brown hosts large shows on 20 to 25 nights a year. (6% of the year). The Randy Rogers Band is one of the biggest shows each time so the argument above to get readings at a large show is a joke. The owners and sound guys at Nutty are very picky about not going over 85 decibels at the property line even though they are not required to. The owners live in the area and want to be part of a growing community.

    The venue and restaurant also employ many area teens and others. Many people make a living because Nutty Brown is there and provides job opportunities.

    Most of these neighborhood residents that complain have been jumping on this bandwagon because it is the “cool” thing to do and I would hazard to bet most of them never even thought about the music bothering them until someone else brought it up.

    I can;t wait for one of these complainers to ask the venue for help with a benefit only to be told they can’t help because they are not allowed to have music anymore.

    Leave Nutty Brown and the rest of these venues alone. Music is a wonderful thing and brings more good than bad to a neighborhood.

    • No one is arguing that the Nutty Brown is not a good organization, is not charitable, and is not valuable to the community. All that is being said (and proven through measurements) is that they operate their equipment in a way that causes excessive noise in the surrounding community. No one I have talked to wants the Nutty Brown shut down. No one wants the music stopped, they only want adjustments to be made so that the sound level at their homes is reasonable.

      What will or won’t weigh in on the TABC’s decision is unknown to me. I have not sent my data to the TABC, nor suggested anyone do so. I took it only for my own website, to provide something objective for people to talk about in this discussion. I do know that the TABC issued the Nutty Brown a warning on noise earlier this year (as published on the TABC website), so perhaps they will be taking a more objective look at the situation this time around. I really don’t know.

      I understand that Randy Rogers is a popular show with high attendance, but I don’t see why the volume of the mains would be set any lower with a smaller crowd. My measurements are not the only ones that have been conducted. I have seen data collected from other measurements and it agrees with mine. I believe that the sound guys at the Nutty Brown attempt to maintain property line levels of 85 dBA, but all of the data that I have seen indicates that they are unsuccessful in doing so.

      My suspicion is that the problem is due to an error in the configuration of the speaker towers. It should be possible to have a very loud concert without driving sound levels into the 80s a quarter mile away. Due to the unusually long carry of high frequency sound from the venue (lyrics can be heard and understood a great distance away), it seems like a tremendous amount of sound energy may be heading directly over the crowd and into the community. Sound level measurements at the ground level property line would miss this, as high frequency sound is very directional.

      Perhaps the solution is a simple re-alignment of the towers. I don’t know. But I am fairly certain that the situation can be resolved without the Nutty Brown shutting down or discontinuing live music. I would expect the TABC to look for this type of resolution, rather than pulling their liquor license altogether.

  7. Anna says:

    Joshua, thank you for your excellent work on this report. We truly appreciate the time and effort that you invested collecting the data and incorporating it into a well-written and well-organized report.

    We have written our county officials, shared the link for your web site with them and asked them to review your report and the data that you collected last Friday night, especially after 9:30 p.m. We agree that an objective measurement substantiates our claims that the noise from the cafe’ is very loud and disruptive to families in the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Thanks again!

  8. Mike Farr says:

    “I do know that the TABC issued the Nutty Brown a warning on noise earlier this year (as published on the TABC website), so perhaps they will be taking a more objective look at the situation this time around. I really don’t know.”

    This statement is false.

    The warning you refer to was not issued for any noise based complaint or violation. I know because I signed the warning and was present the night in question. The warning was for a “disturbance of the peace” based on a single rowdy customer that we had difficulty getting under control. There has never been a single noise based warning or citation filed against Nutty Brown by the TABC, Hays County Sheriff’s Office or any other regulatory body.

    Your claims of impartiality and objectivity are consistently betrayed by the abundance of false statements (see above) and editorialized comments like “Even the Austin Noise Ordinance, which is heavily skewed to favor the noise source”. Furthermore, the fact that you were in contact with several neighbors while never one single time attempting to speak to me or any of my sound engineers at Nutty Brown on the night in question should be all any reasonable person need know about the “impartiality” of your intent and endeavor.

    • Mr. Farr,

      Welcome to Austin Noise. I’m happy that you found us and have joined the conversation.

      Concerning the warning posted on the TABC website, perhaps I misunderstood. I am referring to Complaint No. 808648, with initial allegation received 6/24/2009. The allegation is listed as “Place or Manner – Excess Noise” with a written warning issued 7/25/2009. If my understanding is incorrect, please accept my apologies. I should have done more due diligence before using such a strong term as “I know.” The reality is I do not know that the excessive noise was due to music.

      I accept that that may be a false statement if my understanding of the complaint is incorrect, but I fail see how that qualifies as an “abundance” of false statements. If there are other false statements on this page, I ask that you please point them out to me. If that is the only potential false statement, then it is unfair for you to use the term “abundance of falsehoods.” Please also consider that my statement about the warning from the TABC website was included in the comments section, and not the actual report. The comments section is for discussion and opinions, the report contains the facts. Your history with the TABC has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the data I collected, or on the validity of my analysis.

      Concerning not contacting you before conducting my measurements, you raise a valid concern that deserves to be addressed. I considered contacting you first, but in my professional experience I have learned that it is sometimes difficult to observe something without affecting that which you are observing. It’s not a personal or professional reflection on you in any way, only a result of my own experience. It is not hard to conceive that venues that know they’re being measured will sometimes behave differently and, I assure you, it has happened. Also, please consider that for my measurements to be valid, it was not necessary to contact you or your employees. It was necessary to contact homeowners so that I had the ability to place my sound level meter at a point of impact. If it was possible for me to conduct my study without anyone’s help, that would have been my preference.

      I don’t see how not contacting you prior to the measurement casts any doubt on the validity of my data or my intentions. If my intention was to share some objective data with the community to facilitate more meaningful conversation on the subject, what improvement would have been made by speaking with you or a member of your staff? This is not an editorial piece covering the legal and community aspects with quotations from parties of both sides, this is a technical study. I did not exclude any data that I took, nor did I share any portion of this report with anyone before publishing it. As I am only doing this for myself, I have no client to satisfy nor any goals to meet other than those I set for myself.

      Please note that the opinions I gathered from homeowners during the measurement do not constitute the substance of my report. At most, they help to understand the conditions under which my data was gathered. The substance of my report is the data and its comparison to criteria and I feel I have made a good effort to be clear on that. I have also attempted to be very clear that the criteria I selected are not binding, but simply criteria that are meaningful to the situation.

      If you would like to have a chance to represent the Nutty Brown on this website, I would be happy to have a conversation with you and share your point of view in another article. And, like I mentioned in the article, I am very happy to share my data with you or anyone else in its raw form so that you may analyze it independently and arrive at your own conclusions.

      At the risk of creating a tangent, I don’t see how my professional opinion of the Austin Noise Ordinance casts doubt on my impartiality. If you read the other articles on this site, you will see that I go only where the data and my experience in environmental acoustics takes me. Today I posted a criticism of an addition to the ordinance that I feel favors homeowners unfairly. In the near future I will be posting an article reporting another measurement I did last Friday (coincidentally) that takes the side of the venue. In my work I am pro-venue as often as I am pro-homeowner. You need not take my word that I strive for objectivity, you only need to look at the body of my work.

  9. [...] consultant Joshua Leasure over at Austin Noise takes a scientific look at the noise coming from the Nutty Brown Cafe and says it’s WAY over the limit prescribed by three different ordinances and [...]

  10. Meredith Clark says:

    This is an interesting study. I’m wondering what the noise ordinance states (if anything) about indoor concerts. I live in East Austin, near, but stil within, the city limits. There is a club that is at least 1/4 mile to a 1/2 mile from our house that can frequently be heard at night. Separating us from the club are wooded areas, a road, hilly terrain, and the entire back half our neighborhood. However, despite all this we can frequently hear the club. The problem is that the club plays loud music typically till 2am and generally on weeknights. Generally most of what we can hear is the bass, but it is loud enough to be heard over a TV and certainly makes it difficult to sleep at night. However, there are also times where the music had been loud enough that it sounds as though it is coming from a house right behind us. I have called the City of Austin and even gone down to the club and spoken to officers at the club. They confirm that they receive complaints from our neighborhood as well as the apartments that are right across the street from the club, but that for whatever reason the music is not loud enough for them to take action. Having driven by the club at night, I am pretty sure the music is indoors, so I can’t figure out why the music seems so loud in our house. I certainly support the right of the club to play the music, and I’m concerned that perhaps I’m overreacting, but I have spoken to other people in our neighborhood that feel the same way. It also seems like, given the distance we are away from the club, that it is not unreasonable for us to expect it to be quite on weeknights. I’m just wondering if you have any insight on what might be causing this and how we could go about finding a solution.

    • Ironically, businesses in general are permitted to “operate sound equipment” until 2 a.m. provided they do not exceed 85 dBA at their own property line, while permitted outdoor music venues are restricted to earlier cutoff times, and restaurants and cocktail lounges are limited to 70 dBA at their property line for live music (but presumably other “sound equipment” would be permitted to exceed those levels). Assuming the club is not a restaurant or an outdoor music venue, it would seem the ordinance entitles them to produce up to 85 dBA at their own property line until 2 a.m.

      85 dBA is quite high for music, especially if there is some distance between their speakers and their property line. As you are well aware, music has a lot of low frequency content which is heavily weighted against in A-weighting, so it’s possible for a club to be almost as loud as they want with their bass without risk of exceeding the ordinance. Some communities, like San Antonio, have protections against this in the form of provisions for tonality and/or limits for individual octave bands. Austin has no such protections.

      The Nutty Brown is an unusual case because the high frequencies are also very loud, causing A-weighted levels to be very high. An indoor club with bass that permeates the neighborhood is a much more common situation.

      Unless the club has a stout building shell, low frequency sound will escape from the building and travel somewhat freely. This is why you can hear the bass so clearly. High mass and thick walls are needed to effectively control this type of sound. Unless the club makes modifications to its sound system to reduce levels in the low frequencies, the only solutions are expensive ones; either the club or your home needs to be modified with better walls, doors, and windows.

      The best solution is a compromise by the club on how they adjust their sound system. It could be possible for them to make adjustments to their low end that make a big difference in the neighborhood but are barely noticeable in the club. Perhaps they would be amenable to having a professional sound system designer review their system and make some adjustments.

  11. kimly says:

    hey joshua,
    i have a question regarding permitting outdoor music venues. we live 1/4 mile from a wedding event center (hays county). they have just completed a 4000′ outdoor pavilion and have hosting about 6 events since november 09. these have been extremely loud and obnoxious lo vibration disturbances (9pm – 10:30pm). i’ve called and talked with the owners and was told they are allowed up to 80dba.

    would this type of building venue require a permit for outdoor music? if so, would they be limited to 70dba you mentiion above? please direct me to the appropriate state org with the legal answer.

    this event center believes they aren’t under the tabc rules and regs because the alcohol is served through an outside vendor. with all the numerous parties they host, they could be using a different bartender each time. who would keep track of possible violations and who would be responsible? can this setup be true?

    i appreciate your efforts.

    thanks,
    kimly

    • Hi Kimly,

      Are you in city limits? If so, the rules about limits and permitting depend on the city. Note that some cities don’t even have noise ordinances, or have noise ordinances that are very vague and/or are not enforceable. If you tell me what city you’re I can try to interpret any noise ordinance you may have as best as I can.

      The way I understand it, if you live outside city limits in any county other than Harris, there will be no noise ordinance protecting you. The Texas Penal Code has a somewhat ambiguous limit of ’85 decibels,’ and that is only applicable after the offending party has been warned. The Texas Penal Code is all but useless as a numerical criterion.

      If the event center does not have a liquor license, then, as far as I know, they are not obligated to follow the TABC’s rules concerning noise. Even if they were, the TABC rule on noise is somewhat vague, so it’s hard to guess which way they would rule in any given situation. I’ve heard there’s a TABC hearing on the Nutty Brown issue coming up, so that may establish some form of precedence.

      I hear a lot of complaints about noise from people who live in unincorporated areas. The lack of county noise ordinances in Texas is puzzling. Perhaps in the near future enough citizens will be able to join together to overturn the ban on county noise ordinances.

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