Musician's Tips Index
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14 LED and DMX Stage Lighting Tips and Techniques
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Tip 8: Stock up on DMX cables. Since DMX cables can be daisy-chained together, having an assortment of various lengths will ensure that you can run your cables around obstacles and keep them out of traffic. You'll probably want a 50' length or two to go from the lighting tech's table to the first LED enclosure, several short lengths (5' or 10') to string between LED fixtures on a truss, and some 25' lengths to connect lighting trees across the stage, and from the front to the rear of the stage.
Tip 9: Quick way to store cables. I store each DMX cable in its own gallon size zip lock storage bag. The bags are clear, so it's easy to see what it contains. The bags that have a zipper on them are much quicker and easier to seal than the cheaper ones that don't. The bags keep your cords from getting twisted or tangled with each other. Label the outside of the bag with the length of the cable. For example "DMX-25" on the bag indicates it's a DMX cable (not a mic cable) with a length of 25 feet.
Tip 10: Label your DMX cables. Use a permanent marker or a label maker to identify each DMX cable as "DMX" so they don't get stored with the XLR mic cables. A label maker is the best option, since many DMX cable ends are painted black, which makes it hard to see ink from a permanent marker. Our favorite are the plastic-coated paper labels that print with black ink on a white background. These labels are durable, easy to read, and fairly inexpensive. It's a great way to ensure that you don't run out of DMX lighting cables because your band mates are using them as mic cables. If you ever perform with multiple bands, add your name to the label, too. That way there's no argument as to who owns it.
Tip 11: Instruct your sound and lighting crew to never use multiple mic cables with DMX lighting gear. While a standard, low-Z XLR mic cable may work fine for a set or two, eventually it'll cause a lockup of the controller or lighting unit, requiring a power off reset. DMX lights can take a minute to reset from power off (especially moving head fixtures), which seems like an eternity during a live show. DMX cables, on the other hand, are designed with extra shielding and low capacitance cable. These cables also reject interference from lighting controllers, wireless units, and even mobile phones, better than XLR cables. It's the interference issue that raises havoc with sensitive DMX lighting gear. IF you don't want downtime during your show because the lights locked up, play it safe and only use DMX cables with your DMX lighting system.
Tip 12: If it's a bright fixture, try aiming it at the performer's instrument. This should help to avoid blinding the artist during the show. There'll be plenty of light left over to light the performer's head and body. Once we mistakenly aimed a fixture at our bass player's face (see photo at left) and it looked like his head was on fire when the LED fixture was lit with red, yellow, or orange!
(Photo credit: Justin McCarron)
Tip 13: A digital camera, with the flash turned off, provides a quick indication of any needed lighting adjustments. That's what was used in the Tip 12 photo above. It can also point out where a light may be improperly aimed. If the lighting "cone" is aimed too far to the left or right, or too much on the stage itself and not enough on the performer, it defeats the purpose of having the light in the first place. Be sure to hold the camera extra still when not using the flash. (Why no flash, you ask? The power camera strobe washes out the effect of your stage lighting.)
Tip 14: Don't face LED fixtures towards the audience. LED lights provide colors by color mixing red, green, and blue LEDs. This works great when the light hits the stage or the performer, but if the light is turned towards the audience, they instead see the individual LEDs colors that produce the light. This can be distracting. Keep the light away from the audience, or use a diffusion gel. Many acts (ours included) supplement the LEDs with traditional PAR lamps in back of the performers so the audience can see the lights.
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