Career in Concert Lighting

NCS

New Member
Joined
Feb 14, 2017
Location
Arizona
I am a junior in HS and have been involved in tech theatre. I am the lighting director for the drama club and I am also a musician. I would love to combine my love of lighting and music and eventually become a lighting designer for concerts. I am currently looking at colleges and am wondering what schools or programs would be best to pursue this type of career? Thanks!
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Jan 11, 2012
Location
north central OK

Les

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2004
Location
DFW, Tx.
I would personally not go to college with the expectation that obtaining a degree would assist in getting in to concert lighting. I would go work freelance/part-time at a rental house and go to school for something else you might be interested in – but could still be a fallback if the concert thing doesn't work out. Sure, take some tech/fine arts classes here and there, but I wouldn't put all my concert eggs in to the college basket. I'd put them in the rental house basket since you're likely going to get more relevant experience and meet more people there who can help you in that niche of the industry.

That's just my opinion though. The industry, especially in the concert/touring subset, is all about connections and experience; and I just think you're going to get that faster if you're out there doing things. I still wouldn't neglect the idea of going to school since a safety net is of the utmost importance.
 

TuckerD

Active Member
Joined
Mar 1, 2012
Location
Rochester, NY
I love/hate agreeing with Les on that point. I think college is a great investment, but I have to remind myself that I'm not a concert LD and there is almost no way to get the types of jobs I am interested in with out a degree. Since Les works professionally closer to concert lighting than I do I would defer to his judgement.

He did bring up the idea of going to school as a saftey net. If you still really want to go to school I would consider double majoring or major/minor in some combination of technical theatre and engineering. The two skill sets pair well if you work in the concert industry you would never have to know how the registers on an ARM processor work, but if you had a minor in computer science you will likely have some mastery over trouble shooting techniques that will help you resolve those issues quickly.

Les might also be able to speak to the connection between theater and engineering with his experience as a pyrotechnician and safty technician.

Mods, can we get this thread moved to the education and career dev. forum?
 
  • Like
Reactions: NCS

JD

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2005
Location
North Wales PA
Concert LD assignment tends to be word-of-mouth and usually draws (initially) from rental house staff. Once you have a reputation, things change, but getting to that point is not a direct path. You may want to pursue training in entertainment electrical work as well as obtain certification in that field, while pursuing stage lighting courses. This would make you a valuable asset to a lighting rental house. From there, it's a matter of getting assigned to a show in a support position where you can demonstrate your skill and hopefully end up on a smaller tour as a LD. The model is far closer to the "apprenticeship" structure then it is to simply getting a degree and scoring a job. Expect lots of long hours, bad food, and the fact that there is a totem pole that will need to be climbed. Also, realize that there are some physical limitations to how long that career will last (regarding age), so it is good to have the electrical education to fall back on.
 
  • Like
Reactions: NCS and RonHebbard

derekleffew

Resident Curmudgeon
Senior Team
Premium Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2007
Location
Las Vegas, NV, USA
From the thread https://www.controlbooth.com/threads/i-want-to-be-a-lighting-designer.6384/ (one can also click on the "up arrow" symbol after "xx said:" in any quote to be taken to the containing thread) :
Pie4Weebl, you asked @ship, but I'll answer, having observed the concert industry for quite some time. It will be interesting to compare/contrast my answers with his.

Concert LDs generally don't use assistants in the same way that theatre LDs do, if at all. Concert LDs depend much more on their programmers, if they are not Designer/Programmer. The best route, but certainly not the only one, and not nearly as simple or direct as I will make it sound is:
1)Get a job in a touring lighting shop slinging cable, teching moving lights, whatever. Work hard, but let your supervisors know you aspire to something higher.
2)Learn how to program the consoles they use, via offline programs or the actual consoles on your own time. This will pay off later, much later.
3)Get on a tour as a lighting guy, any position. Live/sleep on the bus, take showers sporadically, eat bad food, don't do drugs, work hard, learn more than you ever thought possible. Be under immense pressure to get the show up in 6 hours so the locals don't go into meal penalty. Suck up to the House Electrician so you get motor power within 15 minutes, as opposed to 4 hours later. Demand, in the nicest way, that forklift operators don't drive over your cables.
4)Work your way up to "Crew Chief." This may/probably will take several tours. Learning the skill of "people management" is more important at this point than knowing which gobo is on which wheel of a VL3000, (unless you're the ML tech) or how to pixel-map the CMY fixtures to the media server on a Maxxyz (unless you're the programmer).
5)There will come a time when they'll need someone from the crew to run lights and call spots for the opening act. You'll be given little if any extra pay, no time to program, you'll only be allowed to use a small part of the rig. Do your best.
6)If you're lucky, someone (the opening band's management, the main act's LD, a production manager), will notice your work and ask you to program a small tour, with a more experienced designer.
7)If that designer likes your work, he will ask you to program another larger tour with him and act as Lighting Director when he leaves. This may well be the pinnacle of your career. Enjoy it. As a matter of fact, stopping/pausing anywhere along the progression is possible, as is leaving the business entirely. You HAVE been thinking of what other fields might work for you, haven't you?
8)Most likely you'll never get to the level of Steve Cohen or Roy Bennett or Willie Williams or Peter Morse, where you're so busy that you can't tour with the show, but design it and leave it in someone else's hands, but it is possible, just not probable.

Be nice to everyone, keep a good positive attitude. The mantra "it's who you know, not what you know" rings true, and to a lesser extent "it's not who you know, it's who you blow." Every person you work has the ability to possibly make or break your future. It's a small community and people talk about others all the time. I recently met FTF a member of ControlBooth, and we discussed at length how the techs we remembered from shows were either the really good ones, or the really bad ones. Try not to fall into the latter category.

In many ways, I think it's easier to become a theatre LD than a concert LD. There's certainly more work available in the theatre in this country, but it doesn't pay as well as the touring industry. YMMV.

Continue to read Nook Schoenfeld's excellent articles on the last page of PLSN. Read The Business of Theatrical Design, James L. Moody. Allworth Press, 2002.

Hope this helps. Looking forward to reading @ship's response. (@ship--feel free to agree or refute anything I've said.)
 

Les

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2004
Location
DFW, Tx.
He did bring up the idea of going to school as a saftey net. If you still really want to go to school I would consider double majoring or major/minor in some combination of technical theatre and engineering. The two skill sets pair well if you work in the concert industry you would never have to know how the registers on an ARM processor work, but if you had a minor in computer science you will likely have some mastery over trouble shooting techniques that will help you resolve those issues quickly.

Les might also be able to speak to the connection between theater and engineering with his experience as a pyrotechnician and safty technician.
You may want to pursue training in entertainment electrical work as well as obtain certification in that field, while pursuing stage lighting courses. This would make you a valuable asset to a lighting rental house.
I actually gained my pyrotechnician experience on the job – a job that I landed via a contact on this site. As for things to tie in to help become an asset, I agree with electrical engineering, electronics engineering, software engineering, entertainment electrics, etc as viable paths. My job has branched out heavily in creating special effects and I am self-teaching in electronics as a result. Having formal training in that would help tremendously. Better yet, these vocations can translate to many other "safety net" industries that will put food on the table and then some.

My education is in Occupational Safety and it helps me a lot on my job; creating Emergency Action Plans, Job Safety Analysis, hazard analysis, laser safety, etc. If I ever do leave the industry, it'll be for something related to that field. Luckily, literally every industry I can think of has some use for a safety person, or a team of them. In fact, I'd recommend it to anyone as a reliable loosely-related safety net type career. The money isn't bad and neither is the schooling. Just be prepared to be that 'voice of reason' when someone is doing something stupid. People may grumble when you approach. I kind of don't have a problem with being that guy, though ;)

A lot of these "fall back" suggestions can be trained for in the community college/trade school type environment, so it won't break the bank or even be that much of a time commitment.
 
Last edited:

krslighting

New Member
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
Location
San Diego, CA
A lot of good things said here.

I do strongly agree with those that said not to depend on your education to make it in the industry. I got my AA in Technical Theatre and my BA in Drama, but I got a job at a rental house days after graduation. I worked in the warehouse, fixing lights, prepping for shows, loading and unloading trucks, driving box and flatbed trucks. Then went out on shows as a stagehand and worked my way up to Assistant Production Manager within a year because of my knowledge of Vectorworks and I learned our rental program fast.

The best advice someone told me was yes get as much school as you can or want to, but no matter how educated you get, no work is ever beneath you. This industry is all about who you know and how well you show what you know. Also if you're trying for the rock and roll thing, there are some amazing and knowledgeable technicians who don't have anything higher than a high school diploma. So do not think that because you have an MFA in Lighting that you are just going to get a tour handed to you.