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Lighting Design: Why Hire a Lighting Designer?
On The Road Series
By John Schlick Lighting Design
(more articles from this author)
2004-08-31
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This article is geared specifically at evaluating the position of Lighting Designer or LD. In this piece, Iím going to answer the question: Why hire a lighting designer over someone else?

Youíve grown to the point where you have a budget to hire someone to help you do live shows. Why would you hire a lighting designer over any other position?

Let me talk about my personal philosophy of shows. Most people go to SEE a concert. Yes, there are people who will say they want to go hear a band, but the active word, most of the time, is SEE. Most people want for the show that evening to be an experience; they want it to be a memory. If they are taking a date, they want an especially memorable reference point in their relationship.

Philosophically, what it means when a band gets onstage is that they are prepared to offer the audience an evening of spectacular, memorable entertainment. If all you are going to do onstage is to play your music and go home, then just sell people the CD and be done with it. At the risk of droning on, Iíd like you to think about the shows that stick with you the most. Are they shows like ďBoston,Ē who stand stock still and perform their album note for note? Or are they shows like Kiss and Aerosmith who arenít (necessarily) perfect musicians, but really GIVE everything to the audience for the sake of the performance.

If this is YOUR philosophy of live music, then HOW can you get onstage and NOT have a lighting designer on your team? Note: this does not imply Pyrotechnics and hundreds of moving lights. For folk singers, it can simply involve tasteful and appropriate lighting to highlight the moments with few, if any, lighting queues during songs. What this performance philosophy implies is that artists ought to strive to get the most out of the music visually as well as acoustically.

Now with that as a backdrop Ö I personally would say the lighting designer should be the FIRST person you hire after the core band and the necessary management, and types that book the shows and GET you onstage. Why is this? Because at the small club level, most clubs have a house sound guy, but they donít have a house lighting guy.

Iím going to attempt to, in a pseudo-mathematical way, try to evaluate the difference in show quality based only on the criterion of how good a show is acoustically and visually, and Iím going to equate those two measurements to how good your lighting and sound personnel are at the show in question. Iím going to use a 0-10 scale for this (I do this 0-10 scale in my personal life a lot). 0 represents the worst guy you can imagine and 10 is the best.

Letís assume that you have between $50 and $100 to pay for one guy for a specific show. For those dollars, lets assume you can hire either a guy thatís a 7 on the lighting scale or a guy thatís a 7 on the sound scale (and Iím picking modest numbers, just to make the case).

Letís assume the place you are playing has a mediocre sound guy, who rates a 4 on the scale. So, without you bringing anyone in, you get a score of 2 for static lights in the club, a 4 for sound, for a grand total of 6 out of 20 possible points.

If you bring in a sound guy, you get a 7 for sound plus the 2 for the static house lights, for a combined score of 9 out of 20. If you bring in the lighting guy, you get a 7 for lights, and a 4 for the house sound guy, for a score of 11 out of 20. There is a %10 difference between these two numbers (9 out of 20 versus 11 out of 20).

Note that for the buck, you get a higher overall show score by hiring a lighting guy as opposed to the sound guy. You also get a higher perceived improvement in the show score by hiring a lighting guy,

There are a >LOT< of bands that never give much thought to how they look onstage, and itís a shame. The better you come across at shows, the more people will sign up on your mailing list, and who will give you ďword of mouth.Ē The more fans you draw to future shows, the faster you can move up the food chain to the next level or performance. (This is again assuming you are a band that wants to tour and perform live as opposed to being a radio or studio band where all you want to do is sell albums.)


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