Stage Lighting and Effects For Beginners

Lights play a major part in the majority of music performances. These can add a whole new dimension to the music being played. Today, you can’t imagine any big show without intricate lighting being used.

However, you probably don’t have tens of thousands of dollars for professional stage lighting and a crew to operate it. So, when you’re playing your gig you want to create as many light effects as you can with as little money as possible. Luckily, technological advances have made entry-level stage lighting quite cheap.

In this article, I’m going to explain to you the basic principles you need for the stage lighting of your band. Online you can find many different guides, but those are usually meant for big theaters and not for gigs with few musicians playing. Also, I’m going to give you several possible solutions for stage lightning sets that are affordable and well-made.

Types of lighting

LED

LED became a bit of a standard in the last few years since it’s cheap, does its job perfectly, and doesn’t produce much heat or power intake. Most of the integrated systems you will find on the market today are LED and the great thing about them is that you can carry them around with you as they are light. But, many places still have their own older lighting, so you should get to know the main types of that as well.

ERS

Ellipsoidal reflectors are pretty common and they produce the narrow beam used to accentuate people. You can adjust focus or put patterns over this light to create just the effect you need.

Fresnel

The type of reflectors that give wider light than ERS and have flaps on the sides so you can maneuver the beam more easily without having to move the whole unit.

PAR

Parabolic reflectors are the lights that are most common in use because of their versatility. They give you the broadest lights of all and are used to give the general luminosity to the stage, without any effects.

There are of course many more lights types out there, but these comprise the good 95% percent of what you’re going to see when you’re out there.

Lighting Control

In today’s day and age, you will find that almost all of the lighting is controlled by DMX, a digital automated control system.

Most clubs and bars have that control system and all you need to do is to connect all of the lights you’re using and program them to work. Simple, right?

There is a wee bit more to that, but the essence is there. All of the modern systems come with some pre-uploaded patterns and you can always use them. If you want, you can always program them yourself to make them follow your songs and your act to the second.

Also, there is always a question of the actual positioning of the lights. When you start experimenting you will find that there are a lot of ways you can position different lights thus creating different effects.

When you use just one light to shine you on the stage it can look a bit boring, but it will do its job. Usually, bands use two or three differently positioned lights with different light types to give them the three-dimensional look they’re after.

You can find online a lot about different ways to light your stage and how to properly adjust your lights.

Fog,  Smoke and Haze Machines

fog-machine

The fog machine creates a cloud of thick, white smoke that is not translucent and is very noticeable. It can be spread around the floor (think first dance at the wedding) or going up into the air.

Haze machines create a much thinner veil of smoke that lasts much longer than fog machines do. The whole point of this is to hold on in the air, creating different light patterns with lights in the space.

Confetti Machines

Confetti machines can also come in professional options, or you can simply get smaller disposable options. If you just want to use them for a small event. Check out our guide on confetti machines for more information.

Bubble Machines

If you want to use a bubble machine on stage for any proper event, then you need to invest in some pro equipment that’s not just a toy you find in a local store! We put together a guide on some of the best pod machines around for more information.

Snow Machines

Snow machines are also used to artificially create the effect of snow on stage. The CHAUVET DJ Snow Machine is a pro example of this. Check out our article on the best snow machines to learn more.

DJ Lighting

DJ lighting follows the same rules as regular stage lighting. However, if you want to get something that’s easy to put together, ones that include their own stands (rather than using struts), and affordable options that have many different light settings, then check out our guide on the best DJ lights.

These include options that you can easily bring around with you for mobile DJs.

What are the five elements/positions of Stage Lighting?

When it comes to positioning, you have 5 crucial elements to consider to get the most visually pleasing result. As the quality of the music is important, so is the visual side of the performance. You can’t have all quality with no visual presence.

Front Lights

Front lights are the main source of lighting in a performance. These lights, as the name suggests, are pointing towards the stage for a good and clear frontal view of the performers. Naturally, they are the most bright and offer the most crucial visual aspect.

Side Lights

Side lighting is placed on the sides of the stage. The purpose of these lights is to illuminate the sides of the performers on stage. As with all lights, and the positioning purposes behind them, the goal is to eliminate any unnecessary shadows on stage.

High Side Lights

High side lighting is aimed at lighting up the upper parts of the performers’ bodies (head, neck, shoulders). Again, the purpose is the same and the ultimate goal here is to clearly see the performers’ faces and expressions while playing. Naturally, artists enjoy themselves on stage so the audience resonates with them and feels their energy.

Back Lights

Back lighting is an interesting one. The light illuminates from the back of the stage and creates that much-wanted depth of the visual side of the performance. Also, the sheer awesomeness of just the silhouette of the performer/artist on stage is mesmerizing.

Down Lights

Down lighting is just what the name suggests – lights placed down that shine slightly upwards. The purpose behind them is to mellow out all the other lighting on the stage and eliminate those pesky shadows on the ground, providing a much clear overview of the whole stage and band/performers.

Why is Stage Lighting so Important?

There are a few reasons why stage lighting is crucial for a pleasing performance. Naturally, the first one that comes to mind is visibility. You want everything to shine and each aspect of your performance clearly illuminated.

Lights also play a huge role in setting the mood of the performance. With warm and light, to dark and moody lights, you can set a tone of a particular song or section.

As previously mentioned, lights play a vital role in a performance. While the music is key, a visually pleasing performance is not far behind. You can easily boost your confidence as well as the effect it will have on your audience with great lighting.

Lastly, a carefully lit-up stage is a sign of professionalism. The audience will look at you more carefully and with awe if your stage shines. This is a sign of a confident performer which leads to the ultimate goal – getting the audience to pay close attention while you perform and thus, shine.

Summary

I hope that this article helped you understand the basics of stage lighting, especially for performing musicians and bands.

As you already know, there are a lot of ways in which you can use the lighting on stage to add more depth to your performance. With some affordable light systems, solo or combined with existing lighting on stage, you can really perform miracles and give the audience a wholesome experience.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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