header stage lights
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Hotel Manners
Travelling with Equipment
You and Your Agent
The Sitting Musician
Open Mic - friend or foe
The Mustache Cup
Stage Lighting
Vintage Instruments
Creating a Press Kit

      The biggest mistake made commonly by solo performers and bands is the “I just can’t be bothered” attitude, or the apparent apprehension of stage lights. Yes, there is a discomfort in having your ability to see the audience taken away from you but if you find stage lights blinding, It is the sacrifice that allows you to be the center of attention and that is what being on stage is all about. You need to make friends with the stage light; he is on your side.

     The elevation of the stage does two things: it makes it easier for the audience to see you, creating better sight lines especially if the crowd is on their feet and it allows you to tower over them, making you seem larger, more important and giving you a position of power. Do not perform off the floor, insist on an elevated stage.
stage lights
     There is nothing to compliment this advantage and elevate your status more than bright stage lights. It is your job to remain the center of focus throughout your performance. Stage lights make you appear to be the most important thing in the room. The rest is up to you to maintain that level of interest. Without lights you are sabotaging your ability to seem present on stage and you have consequently just turned the boredom meter way up and the audience won’t feel the need to have to keep their eyes on you.

stage lights

     Eye contact with the crowd is another powerful weapon at your disposal and properly employed it keeps them looking at you and not talking to each other. By looking throughout the crowd even though you can’t see them very well or not at all, (because those bloody lights are so bright) it gives the impression that you see them and are performing just for them. Knowing that you may soon be looking their way has a tendency to make people not talk to each other because they don’t want to be caught being inattentive. Avoid the mistake of looking too high, as you can sometimes misjudge the room and be constantly looking at the back wall. We call this “light blind” and it is just something to get use to. During the sound check while the house lights are up look through the empty chairs to get a realistic feel of where your fans will be. You want them to believe that you are looking at them: smile, be their friend.

     Separate sets of lights should be hung to accommodate each performer, as spotlight beams seldom exceed 8 to 10 feet in diameter. There are several categories of stage light positions and for the musical stage only a few of these options are really necessary.

     Front lights are what define the actors or musicians; each person needs a minimum of two. They are placed 45° above the performer: this is an angle that appears to reveal the face most naturally. Each of the two stage lights are hung 45° to each side. Having the two stage lights arranged in this way (90° apart from each other) is referred to as cross-lighting and reduces the shadows on the face. Two additional stage lights are necessary for each colour change if that is your intention. (Unless you have colour changing lamps.) Often a light coloured jell with a yellowish or pinkish tint can provide a natural look whereas an un-jelled light is usually too starkly white.

cross lights

     Back lights will provide the appearance of depth of stage and can be hung almost straight down. Lighting stands for the traveling performer come in a variety of types from simple hand-raised, cranked or hydraulically powered to lift heavier trees of lights. Do some research about what you need and how to get the best look for your production.

     Side lights provide an even better look when added to front and rear lights, but increase the amount of gear that you have to lug around with you. They do however create that great color wash that transforms the stage into blues or reds, or whatever your choice is, and provides the glam that makes the stage pop.

     If you're relying on the houselights of the club you are playing at, you need to have a lighting plot you can hand their tech in advance of the gig, so he can see your minimum requirements. This way you have some control over how you will be lit....it will also impress the light tech and make them feel like they are working with professionals. This lighting chart should be included in your technical rider.
     Today there are simple systems that use LED illumination and can be operated right from stage if necessary using very little power. Gone are the days of needing to hard wire in to the main breaker box in the auditorium or nightclub.

     If you are performing outside, stage lights still set you apart. I performed at Knott’s Berry Farm in California for two years doing 1544 performances in the hot California desert sun. I had two Super Trouper follow spots and 44,000 watts of front and side lighting on a four-piece band.  When performing outside, double up on the lights. Yes, it was sweltering, but we really looked big and incredibly important. We looked like characters from Star Wars we were so bright. It made all the difference.

follow spot

On the left is a follow spot called a
 Super Trouper

On the right is
a lighting tech
on an outdoor
follow spot operator

     If you look important, you will be important. If you don’t feel important and communicate that in your stage persona and attitude, the audience just might agree with you.

    Lights: don’t leave home without them.


Professor Douglas Fraser


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