Lights are to a band performance what sound is to a film - it enhances the mood.
This little journey of light started over 25 years ago - yes, this is not my normal digital strategy stuff (though there's probably some elements you could pull out).
In the mid 1980's when the Maxy Band first began (Two vocalists - Brett and Nic and two guitarists - Dad and I; with MIDI backing for bass and drums) had mainly been playing small piano bar type gigs and we got our first pub/ club gig, that usually means a couple of things for any band -
- 1. a bigger PA system and
- 2. "lights".
The PA side of things I'm not going to worry
The easiest solution was to hire a JANDS 4 Channel Dimmer/ Chaser with 8 x Par 56's and a mix of coloured gels. The lights changed to the beat of the music and a small mixing desk gave the ability to increase intensity. It was basic and better than nothing - anything beyond that either required either
a). someone to mix or
b). learn about a whole new understanding of DMX protocol controlled lighting systems.
We'd "Pass" on that - we'd neither the funds, technical aptitude, nor time and it was hard enough just getting a grip on MIDI sequencing back then (the days of MIDI triggered patterns on a standalone drum machine and a single synth for our bass tracks).
Note: From a music sequencing point of view our first app was Personal Composer (1983) then Cakewalk from 1991. Synth wise we'd upgrade to a Roland Sound Canvas SC-55 in 1991 and then in 1996 the superior Yamaha XG soft synth.
The Pub Days (1996 - 2000)
In 1996 we took over management of the Intersection Tavern at Ramsgate, a big pub in Sydney's South - it was easier to buy a pub then having to lug the gear each gig (joke). Band wise we were still running with Cakewalk and the Yamaha XG soft synth for our MIDI sequenced backing tracks. (We'd eventually move from lugging a desktop around to a laptop).
Lighting-wise, the pub came with a disco lighting system already installed including 6 x Martin Roboscans controlled by DMX controller software. The software was incredibly difficult to learn and the halogen bulbs ridiculously expensive.
For gigs and band performing we just use a series of programmed lighting sequences chased to the music. The reality being, it wasn't much more advanced or creative than the old JANDS system.
What I was looking for was a MIDI controlled lighting solution - so we could add a lighting control track to our MIDI backing sequences. The answer at the time was "no".
After the Pub (2000 - 2010)
In 2000 the Band played at Cronulla Sharks home game presentations in front of thousands of people - lighting equipment and staff provided. We also started playing at Cronulla RSL (and still playing there once a month). The RSL Club had simple fixed yet adequate stage lights. For corporate gigs we'd either hire a lighting production company or yet again hire the old JANDS system. For all small gigs we'd just use a couple of flood lights with pegged down gels (this wasn't very good).
We had to really do something about our lighting - our sound is great but our lighting was really letting us down. A Google search on MIDI controlled lighting suddenly opened up the massive amount of development that has been happening around LED lighting and computer based lighting control.
My dream appeared to be getting closer. (I know, for the thousands of DJ's and lighting designers out there who may be reading this it's a bit of a "duh" statement!)
Anyway, we picked up a dozen PAR 64's and 56's; a JANDS 12 Channel Dimmer and a LED Par 56 plus a couple of T-stands and cross bar.
We purchased a USB DMX controller and selected FreeStyler (free DMX Controller software).
AND yesterday, after 25 years, MIDI note data from our Cakewalk sequencer flicked each lights individually on and off - WOOO HOO - it's like WOW - just wish my dear Dad was alive and here to share this with - he'd be stoked.
Now comes the fun part - getting creative and learning how lights can enhance the show.
There's a whole new world of lighting which will not only benefit the band but my photography and video production skills.
Fact is, you're never too old to stop learning and some things just take a little bit of extra time.
Fade up Blue.