Have you ever returned from seeing your favorite band on tour curious about the lighting and effects used during the show? Many audience members don’t realize that the lighting equipment and staging actually travel with the band. The entire process of designing, programming, setting up, running, and tearing down the gear is quite monumental and often underappreciated.

It all starts with the band hiring a lighting designer to create the lighting for the stage and to interact with the music. The designer meets with the band and then determines the amount and types of lights needed that works within the allowed budget (yes, even touring shows have a budget!). Then a bidding process begins to determine which lighting company will provide the lights, trussing, cables and infrastructure for the tour.

The lighting designer then hires a programmer –or does the programming themselves, if they are able—and the two of them work with either the actual lighting rig or use a virtual computer simulation to pre-program all the lighting. For each song the band plays, they select colors, movement, patterns and more. All this information is stored in a specialized computer called a lighting console. Then, during the actual concert, the lighting designer can trigger these lighting looks in unison with the music. This ensures that the band gets the same lighting night after night.

One of the most amazing aspects of concert touring is that all of the production’s equipment (lighting, sound, staging, video) actually travels from city to city. A tour could use between one and 30 semi-trucks full of equipment. Each morning, the trucks arrive at a venue and specialized technicians unload the trucks, assemble the elements, connect cables and test everything. This can take anywhere from two to 10 hours!

Once the lighting gear is setup and working, the lighting designer or director needs to update the lighting to ensure that you can see the band. Since the lights are hung slightly different every day, the lighting designer must update the position information for the automated lights to match the new venue. For concerts utilizing hundreds of individual lights, this can be a very tedious task! This needs to be completed before the band does a sound check, so the lighting designer can be assured that the lights are pointing at the correct positions.

Then the audience enters the venue and the show begins. During the show, the lighting designer operates the faders and buttons on the lighting console as well as directs the manually operated spotlights via a headset intercom system. Other technicians operate various show elements as well as monitor everything to ensure safety, repeatability and a perfect show.

As soon as the show ends, the technicians immediately begin dismantling everything and packing it back into the trucks. This “load out” usually takes several hours, but it is much quicker than the setup time (or load in). As soon as the trucks are packed, they start driving to the next city and a bit later, the crew will board their tour buses too. The next morning, they repeat everything again in a totally new city and venue.

The next time you attend a concert, take a moment to look around and appreciate all the lighting, sound, staging and video equipment. Imagine that it probably arrived on a truck earlier that morning and will be back on a truck heading to the next show around the time you get home from the concert.

What is the last concert tour you attended where the lighting really stood out and complimented the show? Tell us about it in the comments.

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous

    I just came home from volunteer ushing at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, Vermont for the pop duo, Beach House. They had a really cool lighting show besides the music. I am often at shows, looking at the lighting guy and trying to figure it all out. I Googled – how do they do it – and your info came up. Thanks! Wish I had trained in this and made it a career.

  2. Matt

    Nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle that Is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 2019 tour. I’ve seen them at least 6 times and this year they included a flipping Tesla coil that harmonized with the music and shot fire out of the top of the ball. Not to mention the pyrotechnics, fire, colored flames, smoke, snow, lasers, and hundreds and hundreds of lights. They said it takes 300 people to set up and 30 semi Trucks. That’s insane!