Build your own lighting system
When you show up to make music, you often find one of 4 things
There is no reason to put together a concert lighting system, since those sorts of places tend to have a very good lighting system already in place and crew to work them for you. What you need is something that allows you to play anywhere, any time and have your own lights.
If you have a single lighting fixture, somewhere above your head (you don't want lights right in your eyes) that you can position, it will be infinitely better than no light anywhere that band is set up. While a single light is better than nothing, 2 light sources, one on either side of the stage area is better. If you are a single or duo act, one light might be enough.
White lights, while great to read by, are not very effective in projecting any kind of mood or atmosphere. Colors are far more useful. Given the possible colors, the ones typically sold in the form of 25 colored light bulbs or 100 watt flood lights are Red, Blue, Green and Yellow.
25 watt bulbs tend not to be bright enough for large areas, that and they don't travel well. The colored flood lights are highly directional and are far more rugged, however, they tend to be too bright. Both have the advantage that they are easy to find, are fairly inexpensive and don't require any kind of special fixtures or power sources.
I'll assume that the 25 watt bulbs will not suffice (however, if you want to use them, you can adapt anything discussed here to work with them - just be warned that the filaments tend to break very easily). With this in mind, lets look at using flood lights.
The main failure point of flood lights are:
The amount of colors used will determine how many bulbs you will to carry with you. There will be times when you would want to use your lighting system for general outdoor lighting, as well as band needs (you might as well create a system that is as flexible as possible), so sometimes you will actually have more flood lights than you normally carry for performance purposes. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll focus on band/performance use.
Usually, only one color on a side will be on at a time. However, the Red one may be lighted on the left and the Blue one might be lighted on the right. So the lighting system needs to allow for this.
The colored flood lights tend to be 100 watt bulbs (I have also seen 75 watt colored reflector bulbs). In a dark room, 100 watts in a bulb with a built in reflector is far brighter than you would think. You have the option of adding a dimmer to the circuit (these often add a lot of noise to the power line that ends up being picked up by sensitive audio gear), wiring the bulbs in series (effectively dropping the voltage across them by 50% - this is very cheap to do, and very effective) or adding a high power diode into the voltage path (this also drops the voltage to the bulb in half).
You'll find that you rarely adjust the light levels once they are operating. You will find that you often turn on a set of lights and pretty much leave them set that same way the whole night. I find that dropping the voltage to each bulb by 50% does 2 things - for 100 watt flood lights, it brings the brightness down to a very comfortable level, and most importantly, the flood lights last a lot longer - I have some that traveled with me for 9 years without a single failure, and these were used quite frequently indoors and outdoor (around 50 performances per year).
What ever you do, keep in mind that your lights need to be above your head such that they shine down and that the ceilings in many places are limited to 8 feet tall. I'm 6 foot 1 inch tall - this means that the lights had to be higher up than this, but less than 8 feet tall. I picked the middle ground and set the lights at approximately 7 feet in the air.
You can buy stands that can be adjusted to this height, but keep in mind that flood lights can be fairly heavy, and the stand must be very stable. I took the cheap approach and decided to make my own stand out of steel plumbing pipe and 1/8 inch steel plates for the pipe to screw into. If you already have another type of stand that will work - use it. If not, at least look at my cheap light pole design (discussed later) and see it it might work for you.
What kind of Lighting Controller
I have a simple rule, if I have a piece of equipment that requires a 120 volt power source, it must also give one back - ie. it must have at least one power outlet built into it. You never seem to have enough power outlets on a stage and your lighting controller should have at least one power outlet on it someplace. Because of this, it should have at least 16 gauge wire coming into it when you wire the plug for the power source.
Assume that you will be using this system only for performances in small clubs, small halls and private homes where no sophisticated lighting system will be available for your use. With this in mind, consider making this simple and not something that will require a full time operator - assume that you will set it and forget it most of the time. You can buy a fairly sophisticated lighting controller if you think that you need it, check them out and then ask yourself if you will actually use it very often. If the answer is 'No, I probably will not need anything fancy for my small club lighting system', then consider the following:
The Bare Bones Lighting controller
You will also need some cables to wire the lights up with. Each cable could be the same length, or if you assume that the lighting controller will be on one side of the stage or the other, then one set of wire can be longer than the other. This will save you some money, and avoid wasting wire.
If you use 2 different length cables, my experience says that you need one 30 foot length and one 50 foot length. You will always find that you will have one light pole that needs 50 feet of cable to make it from the controller to the lights. You can always make them longer if need be. I use 18 gauge zip cord to make the cables with - its cheap, rugged and works very well.
There are 2 ways to wire this:
This will help you figure out how much wire you need. To have a single light on 2 poles, this requires 80 feet of wire (for the 30/50 ft cables). To have 2 lights on each of 2 poles, you need 160 feet, and so on.
NOTE: All prices given in US Dollars, and relate to prices found in hardware stores in the United States, in 1997. Prices outside the United States may be quite different.
Connectors: The Type of Cable Connectors for the lighting cables I use are 'Cinch' models. All these are 6 conductor, 10 amp 120V connectors. See part 3 for more information. They look like:
Note that they are also keyed (offset) so that that it is hard to plug them in wrong.
Questions? Comments? .
© 1997 Shavano Music Online