Touring at the club level means working in a range of different venues. Every night is a different city, which brings different house rigs, local crews, and rules to follow. As a lighting designer, there are many aspects you need to consider in the pre-production and touring phases to make sure your show looks the best it can be.
This article will address key aspects to consider when designing for club level touring, including the following:
- Artist Needs
- Venue Expectations
- Space and Distance
- Pre-Rigging vs Daily Build
- Custom Fixtures
- Local Ordinances
- Trailer Tricks
Addressing these aspects when designing your tour will make everything much easier when you’re on the road, allowing you to design a great show for your artist.
You must always consider the artist’s needs when designing the show. It’s important to discuss with the artist to understand what they’re looking for, from the touring lighting design to the house rig. You should find out if they want front light, side light, backlight, or any specials because it will affect your design. Some artists don’t like front light, so you will have to use other sources to illuminate the artist for the audience to be able to see them.
You should also find out if the artist has a backdrop, which is very common at the club level. If they do, you should know how big it is in order to work it into your design. Sometimes the supporting act may have a backdrop too, so you should talk with those artists to see who will carry that backdrop. It can be a good idea for the headliner to carry the backdrop and hang it for support to save time.
You should know where and what the backline will be. The backline can be a challenge for a lighting floor package because drums, amps, and other items can block the lights. Likewise, you should find out if there will be any risers onstage because they can cause off-center marks and symmetry issues. You should also consider discussing with the artists and stage techs where everything is going on stage so you can design accordingly.
Walk and Chalk
When you first arrive at the venue, you should do a walkthrough with the production manager and mark the floor for rigging points, if applicable. Use this time to look at the venue lighting rig, including the front light and flown rig.
The front light in club venues can vary considerably. You may see ellipsoidals, par cans, LED pars, moving spots, or moving washes. You should try to have some sort of color temperature orange or CTO front light that you can focus. While some artists may request a specific color of front light, having the same color at every show may not be doable because of the varying fixtures. Some fixtures will allow color mixing, but others may need gels, which you’ll have to manually install. You should strive to have no color or CTO in order to have continuity from show to show.
During the walk and chalk, you also need to look at the flown house rig to see what condition the lights are in. It’s important to make sure the lights are functional and that conventionals are gelled properly. Anything over the stage should be focused and gelled immediately before load-in starts, otherwise, the flown rig becomes hard to access once other gear is on stage.
Likewise, you should check on the venue’s hazer to see when you’re able to use it or the possibility of shutting off the fire alarm. Additionally, you should check if there are any custom fixtures in the venue. While you may have made plans prior to getting to the venue, it’s always good to find out what is actually functional onsite so you can accommodate any changes.
When you go on tour, you should have a “preferred” lighting plot as a guideline to use on tour. However, you will have to adjust your “preferred” lighting plot based on the house rig in order to get what you want. When you’re merging the house rig into your show, consider important looks or specials when deciding which fixtures from the house you’ll include in your show, if not all of them. You also want to be willing to accept that every venue is different and not everything will look good or work for every space.
When working in clubs, you should always be ready to work with PAR cans. Venue lighting rigs vary and many still use PAR cans in their rigs. Some venues will have PAR cans or conventionals only, while others may have a mix of conventionals and intelligent fixtures. In your patch, it’s a good idea to leave space for “house” fixtures and change them per venue.
Load In Logistics
Once you’ve done your walk and chalk, you’ll start loading in. The first thing you should do is hang your backdrop onstage so it’s out of the way, maximizing stage space for the backline and your floor package. For load-in, it’s important to make sure all of your gear can fit through a standard door frame. If it can’t, always have a way to disassemble your gear so you can get it into the venue. Door sizes should be confirmed before you get to the venue.
House DMX and Guest Lines
Depending on your floor package, your data run from the stage to the console can vary. Some venues will have a house DMX or “guest line” for you to connect fixtures onstage to your console. Most venues will require CAT5 Ethernet cables to run lines instead of DMX snake lines. Therefore, you should bring your own DMX snake if possible, or run your cables via CAT5 Ethernet if you have the budget.
If you can get away with a single DMX run, the venue will probably have a cable for you or a guest channel from the stage to the console. Nevertheless, it’s best to carry your own cables since every venue is different. A 300-foot cable will usually work for 1,200 to 3,000-person capacity venues.
You should have a plan for focusing fixtures before you get into the venue to ensure a fast and accurate focus. When you get into the venue, talk to the house LD to let them know your focus positions and plan before anyone goes up into the air. If possible, use a remote system to turn lights on and off from the console, with you calling the focus and the house tech doing the physical focusing. Many lighting consoles have an app you can download on your phone to remote control the lights.
Additionally, you should talk to the rest of the crew to let them know when focus is happening. Since someone is going up into the air to focus, there shouldn’t be any noise in the venue while this is happening, as safety is a huge priority here.
Once you’ve loaded everything in and set up your floor package, you can start programming. You should pre-program your patch, presets, and cues before the tour starts. Once you get into the venue, you will want to adjust your show to account for the house lighting fixtures. Start with intensity palettes or presets to match the venue fixtures with your fixtures for a cleaner show. You should also do this with color, so everything is consistent. You will always want to run through all of your cues to make sure everything looks good and make adjustments if necessary.
Space and Distance
On club tours, stage size varies greatly. Your stage could be anywhere from 20 to 50 feet wide. Be ready to adjust your floor package based on the size of your stage. Depth doesn’t vary as much as width, but some artists can be particular about it. You should have a discussion about different stage sizes with the artist and have a plan for adjusting.
You should advance with the venue to find out how much feeder cable you need, as well as the best place to put your power distribution rack or distro. If you can park your distro in an upstage corner, you can probably have 25 feet of feeder cable for the stage and 50 feet on your farthest loom of cable. Try to avoid having your distro placed upstage center because it may require you to have 50 feet or more of feeder, which typically doesn’t look the best from the audience’s view. Additionally, you should try to avoid carrying excessive feeder cable with you on tour as it can add unnecessary extra weight to your truck or trailer.
Trim Height and Clearance
House trim height will vary from day to day, making it difficult to judge going into the tour. Venues could have anything from nine to 30 feet of trim height. It’s best to limit the height of your floor package to about 10 feet, using an 8-foot truss with a fixture on top. This will allow you to remove the fixture to make your truss height eight feet and meet a trim height of nine feet. Most venues will not allow you to move or remove house fixtures, even if they are in the way of your setup, so plan accordingly. They may let you make a slight adjustment to the house rig, but usually not for intelligent fixtures.
Pre-Rigging vs Daily Build
Whether or not you will pre-rig depends on the space and budget of your tour. Pre-rigging is when the lighting fixtures are put on the truss or set cart with cables before the tour begins, and the lights stay there for the duration of the tour. The rig is loaded onto the truck like this to save time, so you don’t have to build everything on the day of the show. However, pre-rigging takes up a lot of space in a truck or trailer because you can’t stack truss with fixtures pre-rigged.
If you decide to pre-rig your gear, you should color code and label everything so it’s easy for any crew to assemble. Likewise, it can be helpful to address the fixtures on carts or truss to the same starting address number but on different universes. This can help if lights need to be swapped or moved around because you won’t need to re-address them, saving you time. Additionally, you should spike your hang points on your truss or carts even if fixtures are not coming off each day. This will help with maintenance and swapping out any problematic fixtures.
While pre-rigging saves time, building your floor package each day of the tour maximizes truck or trailer space and makes the design more modular and adjustable. Your gear will travel in road cases, which you can stack in the trailer, doubling trailer efficiency. However, this doubles the time it takes to set up the floor package.
Likewise, more cables are needed in a daily build since all cabling must be done, day-of-show. It’s important to create color-coded cable looms to help with the setup. The labels will help you avoid questions and confusion from local crews that won’t see your design until they arrive to work that day. Nevertheless, if there are issues with your setup at various venues, you should rethink it to make it easier on the local crews. It’s best to try to make your floor package as self-contained as possible so any crew can assemble it with ease.
It’s important to find out if the venue has any custom fixtures when you first arrive there. Some production managers may not understand how custom fixtures work, and you will need the fixture information to control them from the console. This can cause problems, so always have your preferred file transfer protocol (FTP) or resource site ready to look up information about a custom fixture. Likewise, you should talk to other LDs that have been to the venue because they may have information about the custom fixture and be able to provide you with a fixture profile.
There may be cases where you don’t have any information about a custom fixture, so you’ll need to use your console’s fixture builder. You may have a vague idea of what the fixture can do like intensity, color, and pan and tilt, but you will have to build it out in the console. You should practice building custom fixtures before you go on tour so you’re ready if this occurs. You must be prepared to figure out how to control the fixture on your own because the house LD may not know how to help you.
Local ordinances will vary per venue, but you must take them into account. Some venues will have haze restrictions, like a scheduled haze time. This occurs because someone has to turn off the fire alarm or the fire marshal has to be there to supervise the haze. If there is a scheduled haze time that’s not long enough for you, find out if there is a possibility for an extension. Many venues will bring in the fire marshal an hour or two before doors, but they may allow you to bring the fire marshal in earlier for a fee. The cost depends on the venue so be sure to ask if you want more haze time.
Venues may also require you to use their hazer, even if you have the same type of hazer. They usually require it for the safety of the show, so you should always adhere to venue safety policies.
Likewise, if you are carrying a backdrop for your show, always have a backdrop sample. They are essential for fire safety to ensure your backdrop is non-flammable. The production manager or tour manager will usually be the one that carries the backdrop sample. You should always carry documentation for your backdrop as well.
Additionally, you should pay attention to the union rules of each venue, if applicable. The union crew or house crew may have a specific schedule with rules about when they need to take breaks. Talk to the house or local staff when you get to a venue to find out when they need to take breaks.
When you tour at the club level, you will travel with your gear in either a trailer, semi, or box truck. You need to consider which one you’ll have when designing your setup. Box truss works well in a trailer, while GT/HUD truss works well in a semi or box truck.
Likewise, pre-rigged gear should go in a semi or box truck where there is more space. While you can put pre-rigged truss in a trailer, it can cause space issues, especially if you’re sharing the trailer with merch or backline. Additionally, pre-rigged carts can’t be stacked and take up a lot of space on the floor. Because you can’t rely on venues having a forklift to help stack your truss, you will need to stack everything by hand, which you must take into account.
If you are traveling with a backdrop, you should have it stored at the tail of the truck or trailer, so you can get it out, right when you get to the venue. Always double-check that you have your backdrop before you leave the venue.
In addition, your cables need to travel in the truck or trailer. You should have feeder, snake, and socapex in different cases, if space permits. While it’s not necessary to separate them, it’s helpful for organization and lightens the load off of one case. Likewise, it’s easier to run a snake if it’s in its own case because you won’t have to pull out other cables. Separating the cables also gives you more options to use venue gear because the venue may provide certain cables that you’re carrying. If this happens, you won’t need to bring out your gear, which saves time during load-in and out.
Creating An Effective Advance
Before your tour begins, you should advance each show with every venue, which means communicating with the venue’s production manager ahead of time. You should have lighting information in the artist’s advance sheet for the production manager and call or email them to confirm your needs. Be aware that the local crew you’ll be working with on the day-of-show may not see this advance, so you should tailor it for the production manager.
You should include information about your power requirements, such as the type of connector (3-phase or single-phase) and how many amps you require. Likewise, you should include the dimensions of any larger items you’re carrying, just to make sure you’re able to get everything through the door. You also need to include your front light and focus needs, including how many front lights you need and how you need to focus them. It’s important to call out that you will need to do a front light focus. If you have specific gel preferences, you should also mention this in your advance.
In addition, you will need to call out any atmospheric effects, including lasers and hazers. If you have lasers, the venue may require a laser safety officer. Likewise, the venue may have specific hazer requirements, like the hazer type and fluid type. You should include information about any soft goods you’re carrying, like a backdrop, and include fire certificates, burn samples, and documentation in your advance in addition to having it on the day-of-show.
Furthermore, you should include how many universes you have available on your console. Venues will expect you to bring one universe for a floor package and will usually have the main stage house rig on three universes. However, if you don’t have enough universes available on the console for the house rig, the venue may be able to condense it for you as long as you let them know in advance.
I hope you enjoyed this article, but I also invite you to view my full Martin Learning Session Webinar video replay: ‘Lighting Design for Club Level Touring′.