crews aren't necessarily the best people to tell you - the musician - everything
you need to know about lighting. After all, they've got their own vested interests
to defend, and the fact that someone can hump a few PAR cans
into the back of a Transit doesn't automatically make them a talented and
imaginative lighting designer. How often have you watched a pub or club gig
where the flashing lights and awful colours are more of a distraction than an
Obviously if you routinely play in stadiums or even large theatres
you can hire capable lighting designers and let them get on with
it. But most of the time most of us work in much smaller venues. Since lighting
vitally affects the way your performance will be perceived it's worth taking
at least a passing interest in the subject. There's no point working
hard on your image and delivery if you're going to keep disappearing from
sight in a lurid nightmare of flashing green and orange.
Four lamps a side is the usual minimum most of us will need to
deal with - and, used properly, it can achieve an astonishing amount.
A rig this size is cheap and doesn't require a genius to operate it - just reasonable
common sense. Each lamp consists of a black tin can (with, effectively, a car
headlight stuck up one end of it) known as the PAR-64. The bulbs come in two
basic intensities: 500 and 1000 watts. 500 watt lamps are good because they won't
fry your hair on small club stages.The advantage of 1000 watters is that you
can use deeper, more intense colours and still be seen. PAR cans are available
in several different widths of beam, but with budget rigs it's a bit of a lottery
which type you'll get on any given night.
check and adjust where each of the lamps is
actually pointing. Get somebody to stand in at each band member's stage position,
and make sure they're lit and can be seen. Most
PAR cans are actually directional, with a wide horizontal beam whose angle can
be rotated by a porcelain mounting strip at the back of the bulb. So you can
usually clamber up behind each lamp and adjust the
beam angle for maximum effect. You'll need a heavy glove or thick piece of cloth
to avoid frying your hands.
While backlighting is the mainstay of conventional rock n'roll illumination
on large stages in big venues, in your local pub it will tend to blind
the audience and turn the band into silhouettes. On the other hand don't worry
too much if you yourself get dazzled when on stage - it actually means
you're is definitely lit. It's much more important for the paying public to
see you than for you to see them.
Check what colours are in your eight available lamps. Do you really
want to be lemon yellow or violent mauve all evening ? If the colours supplied
with the rig are awful, it's better to take them out altogether and
use open white - which at least gives you good clean illumination. You can then
vary intensities on your dimmer board to achieve changes in mood. If you really
get the bug, buy your own filters and take them around with you: nuances of colour
are so emotive and the gels are so cheap that it's well worth experimenting.
keep the lighting plot appropriate to the size of your rig. At a Wembley or
NEC gig the batteries of lights in rows flash on and off several times a second.
But with eight lamps in a pub flashing lights just looks stupid. With even
the tiniest rig you can still
achieve quite a wide range of atmospheres to enhance the mood of your music.
But remember the primary function of lighting is to illuminate. It's something
inexperienced lighting operators can often tend to forget.
All the above is easy enough to achieve when
you're paying for the lights yourself. But more often some form of lighting
will be supplied by the venue. This has the advantage of being free, but the
drawback that it may be very basic and in poor condition. Worst of all, some
local timeserver will be in charge of it and will probably want an easy life
without too much hassle. If you run into the "we
always do it this way" attitude, you'll need all your tact and diplomacy
to get things changed around to the way you want them - rather
than to suit the local Jobsworth's personal convenience.
Two final points. Think about sight lines and make sure the PA speakers don't
obscure the audience's view of the stage more than they have to. Sound
crews don't give much consideration to visuals and PA stacks can often be moved
back to give a much wider, clearer view of the stage (and your wonderful lighting)
without much affecting the sound. If they say this will cause feedback, try moving
your microphone out in front of the speakers by the same distance to see if they're
right. Nine times out of ten, they won't be. And the tenth time ? Hey, turn the
PA down a bit.
thought - already mentioned in the piece on solo gigs - is to consider carrying
black drapes: cheap offcuts of cloth from your local department store.
The smaller the venue, the bigger difference this will make, because of the amount
of stray light that gets thrown around. Cover the back wall, plus any flightcases
or other junk, with plain black material so that the background disappears, and
your lighting will look 200% better. Guaranteed.
click here for response to this article
by a professional lighting designer
(opens in new window)