The question that most of us who do lighting get asked is “My band is doing a gig next week. What should we do about stage lighting?”. You would much rather by playing your bass but, as your keyboard player is in charge of sorting a PA system, you have been given the task of getting some stage lights. On Stage Lighting gives you the lowdown on band stage lighting for beginners.
Who cares about lighting! Let’s just get down.
Thanks to foreversouls for this image
Deciding what you need to light your band depends on the size of your gig but let’s assume that, as you are doing your own band lighting, it is not Wembley Stadium. Choosing your stage lights still involves exactly the same choices as those that face the Lighting Designer for the Stones (or Take That, if you prefer).
Power For Your Stage Lighting
The venue for your gig will have some(?) electricity so you can plug your gear in. You will need this to power your PA and backline gear so plugging lights into it is going to use more juice. Find out how much power is available and how it comes out of the wall (what kind of socket connections they have). In the pub venue in the UK, a single 13 Amp socket could provide up to 3000w of power and a 32 Amp ring main (a group of sockets wired together in the venue), up to around 7000w. With some band stage lighting equipment using up to 1000w watts each, you can see how important planning ahead is. And don’t forget that it might not only be your band that is using the power – what is supplying the bar and fridges? If you are in a venue with little power but you need lots of lighting, then LED lighting equipment could be the answer.
This is what your stage lights are sitting on, hanging from or attached to. If the venue does not have any rigging positions you will probably want to use portable stands with cross pieces at the top (called T-bars). These stands mean that any stage lighting from the front shines down on you talented people, from a good angle, and over the heads of the crowd. It is standard practice to have at least two stands, one each side of the venue, with lighting shining at the band from the front (with theaudience). If possible, it is also great if you can have a lighting stand either side of your performance area, with lights shining across your band, or even from behind them. Other useful positions for band stage lighting is on the floor at the front or side of stage, including lighting for the drum kit.
Band Lighting Equipment
When you need your first band stage lighting equipment, you want it to be simple and cheap. The standard light for blasting light and colour at your band is the PAR Can. They come in different sizes and outputs but the stage light for a small band gig is the PAR56 , 300 watts of grunt with a frame on the front to place a coloured filter (gel) in. PAR cans also come in 500 watt and 1000 watt version and are brilliant, if you have the power. Eight to twelve of these Par56 little beauties would light your small band gig and leave some power for the PA on a 32 Amp ring main.
If you and your bass are going to be locking the kick drum, you don’t want to worry much about lighting control. For band stage lighting on a small scale you have a few options:
- Plug all your stage lights in a leave them on throughout your gig. Simple.
- Let an automated chaser control your lights. This has 3 or more “channels” that you plug your stage lights into and it flashes them away to a timed beat or a sound feed from your PA.
- Using a stage lighting control to “mix” your band lighting during the gig. This is a great option if have a mate/partner who can fiddle with the faders while you are getting down onstage.
If you choose an automated chaser unit, bear in mind that the your stage lights are powered through it, so if it only have a 13 amp plug on it, you can only plug in 3000 watts of lighting. If you think that your band deserves a stage lighting control and willing operator, you will need to get some dimmers to power/fade the lights. Some dimmers are available with integral fader controls so see what available in your area.
There are plenty of cheap DJ and disco lights available that send out colours and patterns. These often move around to the beat of your band, using an internal microphone to control them. Just plug into an electricity supply and you’re away. These are particularly good for dancefloors and look amazing, despite being relatively cheap, when combined with smoke or haze to highlight the light beams. Oh, and if you are thinking that your 70’s covers band really needs a mirror ball, don’t forget to get some stage lights to shine at it. They don’t produce light on their own.
Band Stage Lighting – Hire or Buy?
If your band is going to be doing these kinds of gigs regularly, you might be considering clubbing together to buy your own lighting equipment. Before you part with your money, why not hire some lighting gear in to see what you like and how easy it is to set up. For more irregular shows or ones in different sizes and types of venues you might find that you would rather hire your band lighting in when you need it. It does mean that you don’t have to maintain it or store it in your garage.
Best of Luck.
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Rob is a Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.
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