It’s been an interesting six months.
I joined Learn Stage Lighting Labs in March, having never even heard the term ‘DMX’ and then got stuck into The Lighting Basics Blueprint, taking David’s advice to purchase DMXIS, some Chauvet 4Bar lights and a few other fixtures.
My aim at the time was to light my own band, Jimmy Ringus, and we put together a fully automated show using DMXIS and its sister programme, Show Buddy.
Then in August I got asked to light all of the bands playing with us at a small festival in Wales.
Getting Manual Control of my LED Lights
Obviously to light bands I was going to need manual control of the lighting rig and some way of changing scenes quickly on the fly. I was born lucky and David had just published Puntastical Action Plan about how lighting engineers can ‘jam’ with bands.
If you haven’t studied it yet, it contains some great tips on how to organize your scenes, the choices you can make about colour and effects, and matching the lighting to the mood and pace of the music being played in front of you.
One big question remained and that was how I was going to control the lights. For this I looked at the Chauvet Obey consoles, but finally concluded I was better off sticking with my existing DMXIS software and controlling it with a Korg NanoKontrol Studio midi controller.
Set Up Basic Band Lighting Scenes
I rocked up at the festival with our usual set up: 4 Chauvet Slimpar 56s across the back for back wash; two Chauvet 4Bars either side at the front; a Chauvet Tri Par Plus on the front TBar acting as a spot; a couple of Chauvet IRC shocker strobes either side of the bass drum; an ADJ Slimpar Plus for uplighting the singer.
It’s a basic rig but nevertheless you can get a lot of contrast and movement from it by using chases, colour combinations and the strobe effects on each of the Chauvet fixtures.
Check out the link above for the Korg detail, but basically I set up and assigned 8 complementary front and backwash combinations to the top row of presets on the controller: for example red front, purple back; hot pink front, blue back; all white.
I then used the three rows of presets beneath to set up variations. For example, beneath the red front / purple back scene I had red centre, purple outer; red left, purple right; purple left, red right (all of which gave a very simple way of adding movement to the show).
After this I set up further banks of presets on the Korg to control the front and rear washes individually, as well as the Shocker settings, chases and the spot. Incidentally if you want to do this with the DMXIS / Korg set up you need to use channel masking.
Channel masking is a fantastically useful technique in many situations so if you’re not familiar with it, check out David’s video.
Setting Up The Lights On Stage
As we were in a field I checked with the sound company in advance to make sure they had some power available for me. The whole lighting rig used less power than the sound guy’s beer fridge so it wasn’t a problem.
To avoid any deaths and lawsuits I used RCD breakers on every fixture (and then stood there smugly on Sunday night, playing bass and watching our singer up end a pint of water over an ADJ uplighter on stage: no harm to him or the fixture, luckily).
Just to be belt and braces, I’d also arranged £5million of public liability cover through my lighting insurer. It costs peanuts and I hope I’ll never have to claim.
Getting back to the set up, I let the sound guys set up first and then installed all the lights. I hard wired every fitting but am very interested to hear how some of the guys on the Facebook group get on with wireless DMX.
One thing I did overlook in setting up: there were musicians about! A number of times my power cables were unplugged to make way for amps so in future I’ll add labels saying ‘do not unplug’ or maybe something more blood curdling if I can think of it.
Lighting The Bands
Technically at least this was quite simple most of the time. The Korg unit has Bluetooth connection to the laptop so I could just lean against a pillar in the audience and work the lights from there.
I’d laid out the scenes on the controller so that if you moved to the next preset along you’d get a smooth contrast or if you moved a few buttons along you’d get a more dramatic change. These, the variations and the chases, provided most of what was required.
On top of this I could bring in the strobes, blinders or spots separately, just to add some drama, but I quickly learned to use this very sparingly!
It was a steep curve. Our band, Jimmy Ringus is a loud, nasty and highly theatrical rock band requiring over the top visuals, but the funky, jazzier bands were most definitely happier with a more sedate look!
Also, the stage was set up along one of the long sides of the tent, so the distance from the stage to the back of the audience area was quite shallow. This led to audience requests for less ambient light, so I ended up turning the overall intensity down a few clicks.
Which, of course, is the other thing. Everyone has an opinion about what ‘looks good’. A couple of people asked about setting everything to sound-to-light (sigh) and some others asked about the Chauvet built-in chases, which to me just look like bingo night.
Rather like in my day job (I’m a commercial copywriter), I found you can’t be too precious about stuff and you have to take requests and suggestions on board, while hopefully fending off the dafter ideas and staying true to yourself. I dare say the pros say the same.
So how did I do? I think it was okay for a first attempt. I didn’t plunge the stage into darkness too often. None of the bands had any complaints. And I had a few nice comments from the organisers. It was great experience, if only to show me how much I have to learn!
Using DMXIS with Korg NanoKontrol
I’ve found that there are pros and cons of using this set up to light stages.
DMXIS is way more powerful and flexible than the hardware consoles in the same price bracket. It’s Word Processor simple to design and run shows. When I’ve used it at shows with a foot pedal or with Show Buddy it’s never crashed once.
The Korg NanoKontrol Studio meanwhile is incredibly good value and is a powerful, flexible midi controller about the size of your average paperback book. The DMXIS MIDI learn feature makes hooking things up easy and there’s a simple editor for configuring the midi settings you need to select DMXIS banks and scenes.
You can also use it with programmes like Cubase and Garageband out of the box.
The set up worked well for the show most of the time, but it was pushing DMXIS to its limits and it crashed a few times.
Additionally, the Korg Bluetooth connection wasn’t bomb-proof and I went back to a USB cable connection on day two. And as the faders aren’t ‘motorised’, they won’t stay in step with the DMXIS fader values: a small frustration, but what do you expect for £100?
For simple theatre or band productions on a budget, it’s a perfect set up and if you’re a teacher, ideal for introducing pupils to the concepts and techniques found on the big, pro lighting desks.
If I get into lighting bands regularly I’ll upgrade to something more pro. I’m interested to look into David’s videos on Martin M-Series, and will upgrade my fixtures over time (some moving heads and better back wash lights would be nice).
If you’ve any questions or comments, you can reach me via the Lab forums or by contacting Learnstagelighting.com . I’m no expert (that’s David’s department), but if I can help I will.
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