The TLP Network

Sharing the Hate, Spreading the Pain: On Lighting

by on Jul.05, 2007, under Articles, Sharing the Hate

The following passage is an excerpt from a four piece series on Stage Presence. From time to time, I will post one of the pieces, and then make available the entire compilation of work in a limited edition box set complete with my very own magic the quickening LARP cards. Exciting, huh?

To sum up all the pieces in two sentences: Your audience is WATCHING you while you play, and you need to keep that in mind when practicing your set. Playing on stage is very different than that 10 x 15 steel box you rent and live in for what I hope is 3+ nights of practice a week.

Stage Presence:

  1. Engage your audience
  2. Stage Theatrics
  3. Lighting and Effects
  4. The Posse

Lighting and Effects (Did you really think I’d post these in order?):

This category is dangerous for most bands, because one can go overboard and ruin the experience for everyone. However, without at least some of these elements, your standard five piece, glued to their instruments, and expressionless rock bands tend to bore the audience. Once you have bored them visually, the crowd tends to stop paying attention to you and walk away. You will not sell merch to a person you have bored during your set, even if you try to give it away to them.

For example, is it necessary to have a large fog machine on stage that blankets the front row in a thick dense cloud of smoke? Well, only if you want to choke your audience.

Instead, use smoke to your advantage for effect from time to time such as before you go on stage to walk up through smoke, and during a slow instrumental. If you only use an effect once in your set, you have still added to the show.

Smoke is like a translucent wall, and anyone in the audience with a laser pen can add to the smoke and physically place an object in the smoke. All you need is a friend or two with a laser pen and a shape filter cap. The cap will project a shape and not just a dot.

For basic lighting, a couple of simple clamp lights with colored flood light bulbs are sufficient. You can clamp them onto many random pieces of your equipment or stands, and at 5 Amps a piece putting out 75 Watts of energy, you really do not have to worry about overloading a surge protector.

These colored lights will help set the mood for some of your songs, and remember the basics:

The Good:

Green = Growth, harmony, and safety. These lights are the most restful color for the human eye and have a healing effect associated with nature. Green lighting will bring about different feelings when set to different music since you are in your audience’s comfort zone. If you are not sure which way to go, then you will probably end up with green lighting.

Blue = Sad, stable, and slow. If you want to calm your audience, and your music reflects that mood then these are a great way to go. Most of your hard rock bands that use acoustic songs will have some sort of blue lighting to add to the effect. Blue lighting will actually slow your metabolism down and calm you. Look to the sea, and look to the sky and tell me what you feel.

Red = Angry, energetic, and fast. If you want to pump up your audience, and your music reflects an upbeat or thrashing sound then these are a great way to go. Most of your “core” bands can easily start a pit just by shining a red light into the center of the floor. Do not believe me, have your front man do it at the next show, and ask the audience to pit for him. This is the exact opposite of blue lighting. Look at all advertisements that are catchy; they make your heart race and use red to do it.

Feel free to use more than one color at a time to mix and match these moods as you see fit. These lights should shine on you and not the crowd. You do not want to blind the audience that is in front of the stage.

The Bad:

Yellow (Bug Lights) = You can use them if you are playing outdoors and you want to keep the mosquitoes off. They are called Bug Lights for a reason. Other than that, they make you look the animated dead. Not in the good way either. Oh, and yellow lighting actually makes your audience hungry. Bars, if they are ever smart enough to figure that out will sell more alcohol.

Black = These lights add a great effect if you are in complete control of the lighting or playing in a very dim room. Any natural light or stage lighting will detract from black lights. That stage lighting includes your equipment. While these lights look very intense, you should also have makeup, clothing, and instruments that ‘glow,’ with the effect. Probably not very cost effective compared to your standard three colors.

The Ugly:
Strobes = You can be sued if anyone in the audience is epileptic and you forgot to tell every person in the club that you use strobes. In addition, unless your drummer and bassist are perfectly in harmony with each other and have their eyes closed, you can kiss your timing goodbye.

Strobe lights mess with your mind and replace your natural timing with the frequency of the clicks. Just have your drummer listen to a metronome while practicing and he will probably mess up every song until he gets used to it. If you are a singer and do not know what I’m talking about, just wear headphones and have your voice go through there on a 3 second delay. Try singing, and then bash your head through a wall in frustration.

So now that you know that Green, Red, and Blue are the colors you want, what is the next step for a cheap band? Simple, head to your local hardware store and buy clamp lights with the on/off switch and a 12 to 15’ plug. You will also need a bulb per clamp light, and that will cost you about $10 to $15 dollars per unit total.

In your practices, you can look at your equipment, microphone stands, and see where they are best to lay and sit. During your set when you walk over to tune your instrument you can turn these lights on and off between songs. If you are good with tools, you can build a light board and have someone control lights for you. However, I will stick with the basics, and say that some lighting is better than no lighting at all.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Tim IR Baltimore

    I started reading, but decided to wait for the box set…will it be a Limited Edition numbered set?

  2. LeoCain

    I’ll have 100 made. At first I’ll sell them for the most money as possible.

    Then I’ll realize than no one is buying them but my close friends, and drop the price in half.

    Then I’ll realize that everyone who wants one already has one, and I’ll give them away to those that want them.

    Then I’ll realize that everyone who wants one already has one, and no one wants anything for free, because they think it’s crap so I’ll leave most of them in random places keeping 10 for myself.

    Wait, I think I just described every band’s CD release schedule.

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