Whether you perform solo, as part of a duo, or as a member of a full-on band, lighting and special effects can be used to enhance your performance and increase engagement with a crowd. From simple wash lighting to ensure that the audience can see you clearly, right through to epic room-filling lightshows of colored beams and patterns combined with dynamic plumes of smoke, professional lighting and effects are now available within the budget of almost all performing musicians from seasoned pros to amateurs who are just starting out.
It doesn’t matter if you’re performing acoustic sets in coffee shops, rocking weddings, mitzvahs and birthday parties as part of a covers band, or are working hard to establish yourself as an original artist, lighting and effects can help to take your gigs to the next level. However, thanks to the myriad of options available on today’s market, it can be difficult to work out what is the right lighting investment for your particular needs and budget.
This guide will take you through each of the main categories of lighting and effects that can be used to enhance a live musical performance and explain the types of venue and style of music to which they are best suited. It will also include real product examples in each category taken from the extensive range offered by lighting equipment manufacturer ADJ. ADJ is a brand that has been around for over 30 years and is well known to offer effective, reliable and affordable lighting and effects equipment.
The most basic form of illumination used to enhance a musical performance is key lighting, which is the lighting positioned facing the performer(s) to allow an audience to see what they are doing. This can range from simple flood lights in a coffee shop through to the huge follow-spots used on stadium tours.
If you’re just starting out in the world of lighting and are generally performing in smaller venues such as coffee shops, bars and intimate banquet halls, a great starting point is a ‘wash bar’ kit. These all-in-one lighting solutions include LED-powered multicolored wash lights together with a tripod stand to mount them on. Wash lights generally have a wide ‘beam angle’, which means that they can cover a large area of a stage, as well as a ‘soft beam’, which means that the light fades out at the edges rather than finishing with a hard line (as is the case with a spot light).
The new Starbar Wash from ADJ’s Startec range is a perfect example of a wash bar kit that is the ideal starting point for a live music lighting rig for a solo performer, duo or small band. It features four separate LED ‘par’ lights (known as fixtures) each loaded with four 4-Watt 4-in-1 RGBW LEDs. These are pre-wired to a central ‘T-bar’ which has a single power inlet socket and can be easily mounted to the supplied tripod stand and positioned at the back of a room or side of the stage.
Its quad color LEDs mean that it can be used not only to illuminate performers with white light, but also to wash a stage with vibrant colors. These are not limited to the primary LED colors of red, green, blue and white, as they can be mixed together in varying intensities to create a vast array of different colors. Another reason that the Starbar Wash is ideal for performing musicians is its included foot switch, which can be used to easily switch the lights on and off – as well as change colors – mid-performance. It is also supplied as standard with a padded carrying bag that allows easy storage and transportation of the full kit.
For increased light coverage, multiple Starbar Washes can be used and linked together in a ‘master/slave’ configuration so that a single foot controller will operate two or more kits, however for larger venues and bigger bands a more powerful source of wash lighting is likely to be required. Also, to take a light show to the next level, using multiple wash fixtures with different beam angles can give depth to a stage setup. For example, positioning a few fixtures with wide beam angles at the side pointing at the back of the stage to create background color washes while others, with narrower angles, illuminate performers from the front using white light will improve the view for the audience over a single set of fixtures either set to white or a color.
ADJ’s COB Cannon Wash is a powerful fixture that is ideal for illuminating large stages. It features a single 150-Watt C.O.B. (Chip On Board) 4-in-1 RGBA LED light source and offers an extremely wide beam angle of 80-degrees, making it ideal for filling a large area with vibrant light. However, it is also supplied with a lens kit that allows the beam angle to be easily reduced down to 50- or 40-degrees, which makes it a very flexible fixture. The use of a C.O.B. LED also means that the unit offers extremely smooth color mixing.
With its LED source combining red, green, blue and amber primary color elements, the COB Cannon Wash is ideal for generating vibrant static color washes as well as dynamic ‘color scrolls’ where the color continually morphs from one hue to another to create an effect that is an ideal backdrop for up-tempo performances. However, it is less well-suited to illuminating performers. For this ADJ has the COB Cannon Wash DW.
Offering the same 80-degree wide beam angle – as well as 50- and 40-degree lens kits – the DW model features a 150-Watt ‘dynamic white’ LED source. This combines Warm White (3000K) and Cool White (6500K) LED elements that can be mixed using varying intensities to create any ‘color temperature’ of white light from a gentle warm glow to a stark bright radiance. Its potent output, color temperature mixing and variable beam angles make the COB Cannon Wash DW ideal for illuminating large bands playing on big stages.
Once you have the basics of your lightshow covered – color washes to match the mood of your songs and key light to make sure that your audience can see you clearly – the next step up is to add atmospheric effect lighting to enhance the aesthetics of your show. If you go to watch your favorite artist or band live, or catch them appearing on TV, it’s almost certain that you’ll see their performance enhanced by moving head lights. Although they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, these all involve some form of light source mounted onto a robotic arm that can move sideways (pan) as well as up and down (tilt) to project the light’s beam in any direction.
The most common of this type of lighting fixture is the moving head spot, which can be used to project a choice of patterns (known as GOBOs) in a variety of different colors. These projections can either be made onto a surface (for example a backdrop or the floor of a stage) or into mid-air to create beam effects (when used in conjunction with atmospheric fog or haze). Where not too long ago moving heads were out of the budget of all but established touring artists, these days they are incredibly affordable and within the reach of even small party bands and duos.
A perfect example of an extremely affordable, yet still very effective, moving head is the ADJ Pocket Pro. It features a 25W white light LED engine, seven replaceable GOBOs (+open spot) and seven vibrant colors (+open white). The fixture’s replaceable GOBO feature means that you can easily swap out one of the patterns and replace it with either one of the other four supplied in the box or a custom GOBO featuring your band name or logo (which are easy and affordable to have made). As well as the standard version, which features a black casing, ADJ also offer the Pocket Pro Pearl model, which has a distinctive all-white housing.
Another common type of moving fixtures are moving head washes, which have a softer beam edge and can be used for key lighting or background illumination like the static wash lights mentioned earlier. More advanced models also feature ‘motorized zoom’, which means that the beam angle of the wash can be changed remotely to allow the same fixture to be used to generate tight mid-air moving beams for one song and then static wide-angle backdrop color washing for the next.
The ADJ Vizi Q Wash7 is a great example of a powerful and versatile moving head wash fixture that is ideal for professional party bands playing in medium-to-large-scale venues. It features seven 40W quad color (RGBW) LEDs and a motorized zoom range of between 5-degrees and 55-degrees, allowing for both tight mid-air beam effects and wide color washes.
At the top of ADJ’s moving head range sits the Vizi BSW 300, which is a professional fixture designed for large-scale performance stages. It is a ‘hybrid’ unit, which means that it can function interchangeably as either a spot, wash or beam (projecting tight mid-air GOBO patterns). Powered by an extremely potent 300W white light LED engine, the fixture boasts a wide variety of beam-shaping features including two sets of seven colors (+ open white), two sets of GOBO patterns (one fixed, one rotating and replaceable), motorized focus (to keep GOBO patterns sharp regardless of the projection distance) and two rotating prisms (which can be used to duplicate the beam six times to create interesting surface projections and impressive mid-air beam effects).
While most of ADJ’s lighting fixtures offer ‘standalone’ and ‘master/slave’ operating modes, which allow the units to cycle through a collection of pre-programmed movement patterns and color/GOBO changes on their own, to really make the most of a moving head lightshow some form of control system is essential. Using the ‘DMX’ control protocol, lights can be programmed to match movements, colors and GOBO patterns to the mood and tempo of each song within your set.
A great entry point to the world of DMX-programmed lighting is ADJ’s myDMX 3.0 control system. Featuring a powerful and intuitive software application, together with a USB to DMX interface, it allows precise control over multiple DMX-compatible fixtures directly from any PC or Mac laptop or desktop. Using myDMX 3.0 it is easy to take control over every feature of your lighting fixtures and program ‘scenes’ (featuring specific colors, GOBO patterns, and beam movements), which can then be easily recalled to complement the different songs within your set.
As mentioned earlier, if you want to use moving head fixtures to create mid-air beam effects you’ll first need to create a hazy atmosphere. A great way to achieve this is using ADJ’s Entour Faze machine. This compact and affordable device uses low-cost, non-toxic, water-based fluid to create a synthetic fog effect which is then dissipated by a high-power fan to create a lightshow-enhancing atmospheric haze.
Fog machines can also be used to create dramatic stage effects in their own right. Especially if you’re performing rock or EDM music, plumes of thick fog shooting up from the stage can really add impact to musical crescendos or drops. ADJ’s Fog Fury Jett is a high-velocity fog machine that is ideal for this purpose. It not only allows powerful bursts of fog to be fired vertically upwards from a stage or downward from an overhead truss, but it is also fitted with twelve 3-Watt quad color RGBA LEDs which can be used to illuminate the fog bursts in a myriad of different colors.
While haze and fog can both be hugely effective, there’s nothing quite like the timeless ‘walking on the clouds’ effect of dry ice. ADJ’s new Entour Ice is a tour-grade low-lying fog machine which creates a thick carpet of fog that is ideal for adding extra impact to a particular song within a set, for example a stand-out ballad. Built in to a heavy-duty road case, this unique new low fog machine features an innovative triggering system that allows it to be loaded with dry ice up to 10 hours in advance and then triggered remotely via DMX.
Another popular special effect, which can be used to create impact on stage is bubbles. There’s nothing quite like hundreds of bubbles floating up in the air and – if you ever play at family events – kids just love popping them! ADJ’s Bubbletron XL is a high-output bubble machine that will almost instantly fill the air with bubbles and keep pumping them out at a rate of hundreds per minute. With a durable plastic casing, a convenient carrying handle and an included 9-foot wired remote control, this single machine is an easy way to add impact to your live performances.
Whatever type of music you perform, and no matter how big or small the stages that you play, lighting and effects can easily be used to enhance the aesthetics of your shows and increase audience engagement. From atmospheric low-lying fog, subtle color washes and soft key lighting for acoustic ballads, to fast-paced moving beam projections, intense blasts of fog and vibrant color washes for high-energy rock songs, lighting and effects can be used to complement your music and make your shows more interesting and more memorable.