The skills needed to light a band may seem difficult and challenging to learn, but youâ€™ll be pleased to discover that if you identify clear objectives, and choose the right products to achieve them, the skills follow easily! Not only that, but Â mastering the basics of band lighting is one of the most rewarding ways to add impact to a gig â€“ particularly in a venue large enough to allow your creativity to shine. They are also the skills we are most often asked about when it comes to lighting design. If you’re new to lighting design, whether as a novice lighting designer, a band member who wants to do their own lighting, or even if this is just your first time lighting a band, then we hope these tips will come in handy when you’re designing yourset.
Before we get onto the tech and technique, the first thing you need to understand about band lighting is the “why” of it. What are going to be your main objectives, and how are you going to carry them out?
Lighting a band is, at its core, a mix of two key elements: subject-focused lighting (i.e. the band members) and dynamic, emotional lighting. So why are these important, and how will you achieve your goals?
Of course, the main purpose of any good light design is to draw attention to the subject, whether it be the main star in a theatrical scene or a speaker at a press conference, but there’s something special about a band on stage that make for some key differences.
At a music gig, the audience wants to be involved with the band, without necessarily being involved with the rest of the audience. This means that your front lights want to highlight just the band and avoid the audience, giving the sense that the band is the only thing in the room that counts. A subtle front wash with follow spots for the band members can help keep the band the centre of attention without putting any focus on the audience.
The backlighting will also play a big part in making sure that the band is highlighted above all else. Once again, this is most likely to involve lights underneath the band members and pointing up, so as to avoid the audience while still giving the band the backlighting they need.
The other important factor in lighting a band is making sure that the lighting really feels like it’s part of the show, at its core, and not just a way of lighting up the band. This means vibrancy, colour, emotion and dynamism is incredibly important when you’re controlling the lights. Being able to feel the rises and falls in both the music and the audience’s mood will keep the show going strong and the audience entertained. Conversely, missing the moment can really take the wind out of an audience’s sails or make a solo fall flat on its face.
Having a sense of rhythm is a big factor here, and knowing the music and set-list of the band will help a lot too. Being able to adapt on the spot is incredibly important in order to take advantage of the moments you’re given, whether it’s just about sticking to the beat or really hammering the chorus home.
Now you know what you need to do, it’s time to pick the right equipment for the job. There’s just one more thing to figure out, and that’s what equipment you can actually get away with using. Before setting out your plan, make sure you’re aware of what resources are actually available to you.
Resources doesn’t just mean the cost of equipment (though this obviously plays a big factor) and not even just the cost of transporting it (also a big deal). The real defining factor of what you can and can’t use, however, is what the venue will allow.
Not every gig you design for is going to be festival big. In many smaller gigs, often played in compact but dedicated live music venues on an otherwise quiet night, you might not have much room to put down everything you need, and you might only be given a couple of sockets to use. Before you start planning everything, get in touch with the venue manager and see what resources will be available to you, most importantly:
So now you know what you’ve got to work with, and what you’re going to do with it, it’s time to look at some of the equipment you’ll want to use for band lighting.
First things first you’ll want to get something for that front wash. Preferably, the entire stage will have a coloured wash, with individual band members being picked out by contrasting colours – or even followspots for those vain vocalists. Lighting can come from above or below here (or both, if you want to start mixing), as long as it highlights the band as separate from the audience.
Getting some par cans can help you achieve the effects you’re looking for, especially if you’re able to control them during the performance. With a diffuse edged, wide angle of coverage and the ability to link multiple fixtures for a coordinated show, theyâ€™re just perfect for lighting performers. For smaller venues and limited budgets, Â something simple like the LEDJ Eco LED 56 Can might get the job done. However, Â as stages get larger youâ€™ll start to need the longer throw, brightness, and richer colour tones that can be achieved with the latest high-output, hex-LED fixtures, such as the American DJ 12P HEX
You can view all of our par cans on offer here.
Your backlighting is likely to be very similar equipment-wise to your front wash, though you may prefer to take advantage of lower angles and longer area of effect to create a really interesting look with beams of light and special effects. Whereas par cans are perfect for people, battens and bars are often best for a back-wash, due to their more linear beam angle.
A good basic piece of kit might be the American DJ Ultra Bar 6, low on power and space requirements yet incredibly bright, and great for small venues. On the other end of the spectrum, an LEDJ Mini Pix 9 offers you a lot more control over the exact level of lighting and what you do with it during the performance, with the ability to pixel-map multiple fixtures for truly mesmerising chase sequences.
You can view our full range of colour washes here.
As well as your washes, you’ll also want to highlight specific band members, and follow spots are a great way to make sure everyone gets their own spotlight. These are great for making sure that none of the band members fade into the background during the performance, and for helping to highlight whoever needs to be centre of attention moment to moment.
An LED follow spot like the American DJ FS600LED is low on power usage, handy if you don’t have many sockets available. More powerful is the Acme FS-575W which also offers great versatility for when you’re really comfortable creating dynamic spot lights.
Our full range of follow spots can be found here.
Special effects aren’t necessary, and some venues might rule out certain effects such as fog, but if you have the blessing of the venue manager, the space and the spare cash, special effects really can add a lot to a show.
Creating smoke and fog really helps to make the most of your lighting design, capturing the beams in mid-air and helping you make your own on-the-spot special effects with them, as long as you make sure that the main attention is still on the band.
You can find all of our special effects options here.
It goes without saying that you’ll need a control system – and this is one of the most misunderstood elements of lighting design. Â Again, it pays to clearly define your objectives â€“ do you just want simple control of dim level, programme, etc., or do you want to control and pre-programme many lights to perform in unison as a complete light show?
The first option has the benefit of being simple and easy, as you can normally use a basic, often handheld, controller designed specifically for the light in qustion, but misses out on that dynamism we mentioned earlier. The second option demands a more fully-featured DMX controller and the knowledge to use it â€“ yes, it is more difficult, but probably way more worthwhile if you can handle it â€“ i.e. are willing to devote time to learning.
You can find a full range of our controllers here.
With all the lighting options and fun designs you could be coming up with, it’s easy to overlook the basic elements of lighting design, which is making sure that the set will be able to hold the lights you want to use, and that it adds to, or at least doesn’t detract from, the overall show.
Keeping your front lights to the side of the stage will mean that they’re not directly in the way of any audience members at the very front, and if you don’t have a stage at all then this will help stop them from being kicked or causing people to trip. At the back of the stage, if you have room, lights won’t necessarily be in anyone’s way, so centre stage might be a good place to get some different angles on your lighting.
The finishing touches for a stage should be the backdrop. At a larger venue, you’ll probably be putting a lot of effort into your background, but for smaller gigs a simple starcloth backing or even black cloth will do. This simply helps to designate a stage area, and give you more control over what your front lights will be hitting in the background.
Astounded are always keen on helping lighting and special effects designers learn more about their art, and we’re happy to help you out in any way we can. If you have any other questions, about products or technique, then please get in touch on 01524 845310 where we can give you advice on lighting and sound design.