Breaking into the lighting scene


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Alright, so I'm in college, a freshman at Boston U, though I am from NJ. This summer I'd really like to get a job doing lights with a band, even if it something like running followspot, or carrying stuff around. I just don't know who to talk to or what to say. Any suggestions?

I wish you were in the Chicago area. I do sound and lights for hire for a lot of local-band shows and could use a good intern.

Starting out on tour is really hard to do. Most places will ask that you have some preveious tour experience. Instead try and work your way onto the local crews. Most tours dont carry around ALL of the techs they need for a show because this would be too exspensive. So they hire locals to do some of the less than glorious work like coiling cable and Packing/Unpacking the trucks. Find a local concert venue that regularly has tours coming in, and ask if they are looking for overhire people. After a couple years you should know enough people to swing yourself onto a tour.... Maybe. Alot of it is word of mouth and knowing the right people.
Most places that host tours of any size will be union shops. Check into Local 1, or better yet stay in Boston and do some underhire work there - it will probably be easier to get work in a smaller town unless you know someone already in the local. Look up IATSE and contact them, for advice on how to do so. Working with the union will also at least hopefully give you points towards getting your card. It's working up to be a really busy summer so overhire work is very likely to be busy.

That's given you want to get experience that way as house staff. Chances are at least until the end at best it is going to be set up crew only and pushing boxes.

You will learn the in and out of the trenches, plus will be on the crew for the show, but still not really be a part of it. I don't know how many locals really get picked up by a tour, I think that's more of a small time tour thing to get picked up or fable in how to make it. You can impress the production manager and crew members, but it's usually safer to just hire from the known pool of them. Plus change once on the tour is a bad thing.

The employees on tour with a show work directly for the company providing the gear. They do not really hire people on the road because those doing the hiring are not those on tour. It is possible to work as a free lance tech person for a company doing the tour, but for that you had at best already have an established name for yourslf which means lots of prior tours and having worked for one of the large say 5 or 10 companies to be accepted as a hire on/contractor employee. Those are more the people that get picked up for a tour or that are requested on the show by it's management. To that it's who you know, how they know your use and it's all planned out well before the tour leaves the shop.

If a tour needs someone it normally comes from the ready and already known crew at the shop or off another tour. 3/4's of the tech people I work with are out on shows more than they are home and it's infrequent but still the norm that they will be pulled off another tour, end one and head right onto the next, or the newer crew person that shows promiss in the shop will be sent out with the show. Last week touring with James Taylor, this week with Metallica. Same show different singer, but the same base group for each company.

The question is where you want to go this summer and in the future? Is this a question of being happy doing shows on the club level, perhaps traveling in the van pulling the gear trailer or did you want to be the VeriLight tech on the next FooFighter's tour on the bus following the semi trucks, or flying to each show? Nothing wrong with either but thre are different ways to achieve either position on the crew.

Experience is the key no matter if it's from being house staff, shop labor from a ma and pop lighting/party company to just applying to the big companies and working in the shop until you are ready. Normally I would say it's at least 4 to six months before your first show, than at least 9 to a year if ever before your first real tour - popping your cherry.

Of people we hire, it's a mixture of all types of people's experience. I for instance cited house staff as my primary experience with lighting - plus the degree and design/TD work, than some time with a smaller lighting company. Others have worked for smaller companies to gain experience - especially as the best of the best from those companies, some even still do the small club work on the side, than transferred to the big bucks place once they gained the basics from the smaller place. Still more are fresh out of college or even high school. They put their time in at the shop, learn some stuff and if it works out right they also end up on tour. Any transfer people from other areas of experience, unless known to have direct similar experience with a similar sized company will start out in the shop for a time from my observation. It's just those with experience most likely will not stay in the shop as long.

It's kind of similar to school lighting, light board is a responsibility and reward. The new person to the crew most likely is not going to be given it as a reward. They have to put in their time just like everyone else. As summer work, you will sling cable, prep gear or install shows, but I would not expect to be doing a huge amount of the real work until at best the end, unless the shop is really small.

Summer work on such such tours would be limited to your aptitude and you as a person. Chances are you might be able to run a show as house staff or in a smaller company, but unless really good - to the extreme (be realistic now) you will be lucky to get on one install for a convention or something similar if small just pulling the feeder for it. Next year, even during vacations from school, if you have the ability and time in the trenches already served you might get the shows, and during the summer it's possible to get you out on a real tour but it's dependant upon the person and not the norm. That about assumes breaking up that four months into smaller bits and being the type of person they want to get out on tour during this time.

So large shop work will be the necessity in my opinion for getting out on the large tour, but don't expect to get on the tour without a lot of time and effort. More than one summer might allow. Lots of people in line ahead of you. Smaller tours or house staff is perhaps a better option given that's your goal of the running crew.

By the way, start applying now because touring season much less planning for it and hiring people for it starts in the next month or two. Perhaps even offer to give your spring break to the perspective employeer as a trial. Should be for pay though you might ask minimum wage, but some smaller shops might find free labor perhaps for class credit appealing.

Note: I don't want to nor have I toured. I have worked the local, traveled to installs etc. but I'm support staff and like the 9 to 5. I know a lot of touring people and speak with them every day however.

On the other hand, Wolf is a tour person and I await his own thoughts on it amongst other tour and shop people.
disc2slick said:
Alright, so I'm in college, a freshman at Boston U, though I am from NJ. This summer I'd really like to get a job doing lights with a band, even if it something like running followspot, or carrying stuff around. I just don't know who to talk to or what to say. Any suggestions?


Hi Dan....well what is your background? What is your experience? What are your limits? What kind of job are you looking for--shop work, clubwork or tour work? What are you expecting for payment? What is your transportation situation? These should be the base questions you should consider the answers that will be the most ones often asked. As for who and where--lots of ideas and places. Most folks have mentioned tours--two ways to get on tours usually...either thru the band you know and have a history with, or working with a company that supplies tours with gear and crews...both of which is not an easy process. Now--to work locally..thats easier....and that can lead to tour work thru networking..but isn't as reliable unless you have been around forever in a single location and gotten to know everyone and thensome..and even then it is difficult to find anything but local and one-off work. Local work is simple--find a venue like a hall or club that needs help--and apply. If its IA (IATSE)--call your local IA house and see about their non-member over-hire lists, or petitioning to become a member if you want to make this a career. Second approach for local work is to find a production house locally..some tour and some do not and instead do shows locally...but most are looking for folks for overhire and summer labor. Are you going back to NJ or stayting in Boston? Easy to get some experience and learn some things and make some friends at these houses. Call around now, walk in and put a name to a face, show interest and persistance, and apply and be honest with what you can and cannot do cause it is no crime to not be very well skilled at first--you cannot lie or be overly boastful about your skills or experience because it WILL come back and bite you in the a$$ when you are expected to do something you SAID you knew and suddenly they call you on it. Some places like it if you have no experience--they can easier show you their way of things then try to re-train you of bad habits they may not like...others want experienced folks. So it depends but its not that difficult to find a home. Expect to hump feeder cable--expect to hump gear, coil cables, sweep floors, clean tape-goo off cables, load boxes and bust your butt..expect to sit in a shop and do what you are told and pull shows that you will never be on...and expect to have a lot of fun and learn, and you will see some shows free from backstage and learn a ton. Be detailed, thorough and dilligent in your work, and pay close attention to what you do and to ask questions when its convenient and learn. Know when to ask questions and when NOT to..when to be seen and when to be heard...not every moment is a learning time for you--sometimes just DO your job they tell you, and make note of that question for later. Don't sit around and do not get into a habit of following the masses--many folks will take breaks before the crew lead says so--don't fall into that are hired to work and those guys are 10 times as fast as you are and know when they are behind and know the drill and can catch up in a minute and leave you in the dust--so take your orders from the crew chief and not from any crew bad-examples and keep working and finish your tasks regardless until you are told to break. If you finish your task--ask for another..don't wait to be given a task--ask for it. Check your ego at the door and you should have a fun and good experience. Thats the honest long and short of it...

If you have any direct questions to ask--please do.

if youa re really interested in lighting..there are usually local rep companies in the area that take volunteers. Volunteering = quick experience if they want that where you are trying to work...but I guess this will only work if you have some free time...

Check out the internship and touring positions on

There might be something in your area you might be able to do. You dont always get the dream job so to speak right away. I would also look into some local bands or theaters in your area. If you are 18 or over , you may be able to join a union and work as overhire at a local concert venue though I dont really suggest that. Hope that helps. :)

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