Band lighting - small venues

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Due to some interest being expressed in this subject, & updating / building on a thread I started here years ago (now outdated), I though I'd open the discussion on band lighting in small venues that don't have a dedicated stage. I'm referring to bars, pubs, small halls, & similar places.

In such venues, I see bands either ignore lighting completely, or spend money but get it badly wrong. Lighting is important - especially in smaller venues. Irrespective of the size of band / act, or the genre of music, lighting sets you apart. It turns that corner of a bar into a "stage". Without it, no matter how good you sound, you're all but invisible to the audience - especially an audience who hasn't visited that venue specifically to see you. Lighting announces there's a performance, something to watch, something special.

The following assumes LED. Especially in small venues, the old incandescent lighting has had it's day, both in terms of practicality (heat, delicacy, control, bulk, etc) & power consumption. Many of us remember getting to the venue in a beat up van, only to find half the PAR64s didn't work / broken gels, etc, & spending too much of your gig money on replacement bulbs. Modern LED units are great "IF" you know what to buy. There's still a place for incandescent lighting on larger stages. It's still the gold standard in terms of light quality, but no longer a good choice for smaller venue use.

An important note on LED lighting quality. Always choose units with RGBW bulbs. Never buy units with an RGB setup. RGBW bulbs mix the colours within the bulb itself, & also deliver a "pure" white rather than mixing RGB. These typically deliver rich defined colour. RGB units use individual red, blue, & green bulbs to give you the resultant colour. The colours are typically weak / washed out & ill defined. Always opt for the most powerful units your budget will allow. It's almost always better to have fewer high powered units than more low powered ones, even though multiple units will give a more even light spread. If they're insufficiently powerful for the venue / ambient lighting, most of the impact will be lost. Always better to have headroom.

A final lighting quality note. All of the following suggestions are a small venue compromise in the context of professional lighting standards. In all options here, you will get shadows & dead spots without lighting placed up high & forward of the performers. Such setups will not be covered here, as there's rarely the room available, it requires much more gear in terms of trussing, etc, & often has audience safety / insurance implications too.

Ok, rather than penning the mother of all posts, I'll keep this to absolute essentials / broad guidance, in the hope questions will emerge, & details in replies. I'm grouping this for relevance, in the form of do & don't bullets:


1/ Let's start with the most basic setup. A small band / duo / wine bar / or other low key / low impact setting, or where there's simply no space. As a minimum, you want some colour in your performance area. Something very compact & convenient, yet delivers rich colour.

DO:

* Get two (or more) floor standing floods.
* Choose units with a floor stand / mount & adjustment.
* Choose units with barn doors - these will help direct your light / limit light spill.
* Choose units with manual control menu option, not dip switch DMX.
* Choose units with variable light intensity.
* Choose units that can daisy chain the mains feeds.
* Avoid units that use domestic lighting connections on the units themselves. These tend to be unreliable - especially USA 2 pin / 3 pin connections. Choose units with PowerCon if possible, if not, then IEC.
* Keep your light display static.
* Use a different colour for each flood (unless you want all white). This brings a richness / texture to your presentation.

DON'T:

* Ignore any of the above
* be tempted to use any of the change programs or sound to light - Keep it simple!
* Forget to order power link leads. These mean you can run all lights off one socket, & cuts down on stage cable mess.


2/ Next step up. Basic band flood lighting. Now were elevating the lights - typically either side of the performance area. If you've sourced the floor standing flood lights I describe in section 1/, you can simply stand mount them. Stands come in a range of heights & styles, but the tripod type can take up a lot of space. A single truss tower is a much better option, but require securing to something stable (possibly your PA speaker handles). The other common option is what's known as "Par Bars". These are a stand mounted bar, usually featuring 4 x small floods / spots, & with a built in programming unit. They can be either set to static lighting, program changes, or sound to light.

DO:

* Take note of all advice in section 1/.
* Mount lights as high as the venue will allow.
* Make sure your power feed leeds are long enough.

DON'T:

* Attach lights to the top of your speakers using tape.
* Set the lights too low so as to dazzle your bandmates.
* Use set change programs or sound to light.
* Suspend power reels. It looks ugly & it's dangerous.


3/ So you want to control your light show. Doing so will add impact and allow you to set moods. Stage flood lighting is all about setting the scene. A static display is always preferable to lights flashing all over the place through sound to light or sequence programs, but performance control adds a next level feel. If you go for the "Par Bar" option, these sometimes come with a foot controller that allows scenes to be programmed & operated by a stage performer. If you go for the more professional stand alone lighting units, there is no such option. With individual units, you'll use DMX control, & that requires a control desk. These desks can be fairly low cost & simple to use, but you'll be relying on someone else to operate the lights for you. You can easily set a selection of "scenes" on the desk for the operator to select with a single button. Frankly, it's not usually difficult to find a volunteer within your band circle. I'll leave the cabling descriptions to questions if asked, but suffice to say, you'll need to run signal leads in addition to mains feed leeds.

DO:

* Keep lighting settings simple. It's about the performers, not the lights. Discourage frequent light scene changes. One scene / verse, one scene / chorus is a good starting guide.
* Ensure signal leads are of sufficient quality & length. Cheap leads = issues.
* Before buying the gear, if you're going for the ParBar with foot control option, make sure a band member (usually the singer) is happy to operate the lights without detracting from their performance.

DON'T:

* Set scenes that include timed sequences - they never line up with the tempo.
* Use sound to light - it looks sh!t, no matter how much you want to show off your new lights.


4/ Rear stage lighting. Ok, we've covered the basics of flooding the performance area with light, or at least providing some colour to set you apart. Now let's look at impact lighting. This applies mainly to acts wanting a more dynamic presentation. Rear stage lighting is your wow factor. It's designed to give your audience an impression of a "show". These lights can be spot lights if you want to illuminate certain elements, or effects lights such as moonflowers, etc - the list is endless, depending on what you want & how much you have to spend. For small venues, my cover band uses 4 x moonflowers & 2 x spots. A very simple setup that delivers a lot of impact. It goes without saying, once you've decided on rear stage effect lighting, a control desk is a must. Another essential is a hazer (not a smoke machine). A hazer allows your lighting beams to become prominent & adds greatly to the presentation impact. Without one, effects lighting is essentially useless.

Do:

* Take note of all advice in sections 1/ & 2/.
* Pay attention to the footprint of the light mounting stand / stands. Tripod based units are often impractical. Trussing is better, & looks good too.
* Choose the highest power units your budget will allow. This is especially important with effects lighting.
* Carefully integrate your effects lighting with your flood settings. You'll need to dim your floods if you want the effects lights to dominate.

Don't:

* Use a hazer unless you've cleared it with the venue first. Hazers are much less likely to set of smoke alarms than smoke machines, but it's still possible. if the venue isn't happy, don't bring your effects lighting.
* Buy cheap haze fluid.
* Over use effects lighting. Less is definitely more.


Ok, that's enough for a starting guide. Hopefully, some of you will find it useful.
I've attached a few pictures of my cover band's setups. Unfortunately, they're screen shots from videos rather than photo's, so picture quality woeful, but you get the idea. Video links there too if you're interested.

Picture 1 - a tiny & packed daytime bar gig - zero room - two floor floods. Note: Floods were placed at the performer's feet due to extreme room restriction, & aimed at leg level so as not to dazzle. Daytime too, so worst possible lighting situation, but it still added.
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgmJSDQpl-s

Pictures 2, 3, 4, & 5 - a medium size bar gig (cap 300) using just 8 light units (2 x floods on truss towers + 2 x spots & 4 x moonflowers)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfQ2IQp6tl4

Pictures 6 & 7 - our full lighting rig & PA from which we select elements for smaller gigs.
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66UNPll4Pfg
 

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KamaK

Platinum Member
Great post.

Looking at the pics, I have the following question.

Do you bring your own hay bales, or does the venue typically supply them? Will old used tires work as a substitution?
 

spleeeeen

Platinum Member
So I read this and I'm thinking, "Wow, I don't know who this new guy is that posted but he took a lot of time to lay out a thorough and clear guide, complete with pictures and video. Reminds me a lot of A...wait a minute!! ;-)

Andy, this is super helpful and timely for me. I've a new band playing our first show next month and for the first time, I'm responsible for both sound equipment and lighting. I was thinking our lighting options were very limited prior to reading your post but you've helped to (wait for it) illuminate options I hadn't seen.

BTW, feels good knowing you're around.

Jason
 

dboomer

Senior Member
Just a note... be aware that LED lighting and video walls usually cause significant RF interference so your wireless mics, instrument and IEMs may not work.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Great post.

Looking at the pics, I have the following question.

Do you bring your own hay bales, or does the venue typically supply them? Will old used tires work as a substitution?
Hahaha - the last two pictures + video are only for reference to show the larger setup we cherry pick our smaller setups from. Actually, that brings me to raise flexibility as important in your lighting gear choice :)

Andy, this is super helpful and timely for me. I've a new band playing our first show next month and for the first time, I'm responsible for both sound equipment and lighting. I was thinking our lighting options were very limited prior to reading your post but you've helped to (wait for it) illuminate options I hadn't seen.

BTW, feels good knowing you're around.

Jason
Thanks Jason. If you need to know anything specific to your situation, please ask away. I'm not a lighting expert by any means, but I know a few who are, & I've gained a lot of low level experience.

Just a note... be aware that LED lighting and video walls usually cause significant RF interference so your wireless mics, instrument and IEMs may not work.
This can certainly be the case, & brings me back to the subject of gear quality. Lead quality especially is an investment area not to be ignored. Same with the lighting units. A lot of the ParBar type setups can be noisy. We use both radio mic's & IEM's in our cover band setup, & have never had an issue.
 

dboomer

Senior Member
That’s in large part because most wireless in the UK is licensed and operate at higher frequencies than we do in the US. Most LED interference is at or below 550mhz and gets worse as you get near the 400’s. With all the frequency reassignments happening in 2018 it will be an even larger problem in the US.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
That’s in large part because most wireless in the UK is licensed and operate at higher frequencies than we do in the US. Most LED interference is at or below 550mhz and gets worse as you get near the 400’s. With all the frequency reassignments happening in 2018 it will be an even larger problem in the US.
Ah - great info, I wasn't aware of the US situation. Thanks for pointing that out :)

I have noticed UK bands having RF issues with the cheaper ParBar type setups, & we also had an IEM issue a while back, but that was quickly identified as a lead problem, & the offending item was replaced.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
Great post.

Looking at the pics, I have the following question.

Do you bring your own hay bales, or does the venue typically supply them? Will old used tires work as a substitution?
That's straw, you city boy.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
That's straw, you city boy.
Straw? What's straw? You must be from the east coast USA!

Seeing those hay bales made me think is was a country and western gig. But then I realized it was probably from a gig in England. But there is no country and western music in England. So I'm confused. Maybe they have country and eastern music!?!?

Andy what a great post!!! Love it. I copied and pasted this info so I could save it for future reference. Thank you so much!


.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
Think of it as a bale of tumbleweeds without the seeds.

Yes, I'm from the east coast of USA and I would like to apologise for knowing what's best for you out west.
Touche' my friend.
Straw and Hay are two different things. I guess it could be either one.


.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Straw and Hay are two different things. I guess it could be either one.
Hahaha - this forum is priceless!

Of all the questions I expected to answer on a band lighting thread, "hay or straw?" was the last subject I expected. The answer is straw. There you go - y'all now know everything about gigging in the UK ;) ;) ;)
 

Lee-Bro

Senior Member
Andy thanks for the write-up. We recently did a wedding reception inside a small church and due to space restrictions had to run with just 2 4-bar light stands. Even though we were limited on that, they provided a lot of affect and definitely added to experience for the guests.

Regarding hay vs. straw, this is for those not familiar: http://thegrownetwork.com/straw-vs-hay-which-makes-a-better-mulch/

And on a serious hay/straw bale note AND lighting: Depending on your location, you may have to have portable fire extinguishers "on hand and nearby" the stage or wherever your bales are. I've come across this twice. One was a small club where they did a hoe-down party and the second was on in parade where the bales were on a trailer and used as seating. Both instances we were told to get fire extinguishers. First time by a regular who's a fireman, second time it was the parade marshal.

</derail>
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
That's straw, you city boy.
Never seen straw shed like that, though we only have wheat and rye around here. That said, I'm not the brightest farm hand.... I've literally thrown myself out of the top floor of a barn huck'in hay.

Andy,

What's the ballpark on a entry-rig these days? 4 tops, 3 floor, two backs, trusses, cables, etc....
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Andy,

What's the ballpark on a entry-rig these days? 4 tops, 3 floor, two backs, trusses, cables, etc....
I'm picking up you're talking in old PAR64 setup terms, but in a modern LED based setup? In other words, 7 x barn door floods, 2 x spots, 2 x front truss towers, & 1 x rear arch truss, desk, etc.

In gear I'd actually use - gear that's way better / more powerful than the old PAR64 based setup with good aluminium trussing, etc, then around £3,800GBP ($5.000USD) if you shop around.

In gear that's not as powerful & using 4 x tripod stands + desk but still decent power RGBW - then around £2,000GBP ($2,600USD).

2 x par bars (8 lights) for fronts, 1 x par bar (4 lights) rear (foot controlled), 3 x static floor - but all RGB - then around £1,300GBP (1,700USD).

A is for horses.

R is for fuck's sake.
I'm still trying to work this out!

Andy thanks for the write-up. We recently did a wedding reception inside a small church and due to space restrictions had to run with just 2 4-bar light stands. Even though we were limited on that, they provided a lot of affect and definitely added to experience for the guests.
Indeed - even a basic setup greatly improves your show impact & audience engagement. Crucially, it enhances client perception of value for money too!

Both instances we were told to get fire extinguishers. First time by a regular who's a fireman, second time it was the parade marshal.

</derail>
Yes, using flammable materials such as these require safety measures to be taken for sure.
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
Restrictions in New England make lighting a bit of an issue. A couple of high profile incidents (Station fire specifically) have made bar owners and inspectors pretty strict on the regulations. The rules for lighting are so onerous Im not sure its worth the hassle. Anywhere that we would play already has lights and a designated stage, but I know some friends in cover bands who have run into issues.
 

CommanderRoss

Silver Member
Wait a minute. They have to hear us and see us?
I know, right!!? It's one thing for us to show up, but now they want us to play too!?
What the...

Great thread here brother! Most just rely on the venue to do lighting and armed with this knowledge, I'll pay closer attention.
We play at a small club where lighting is an issue as the "stage" is in a small corner. This will help..."shed some light" on our issue. =-D
 
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