Sound & Lighting at a Concert

by Andy Klaus
The lights and sounds of a concert require considerable offstage orchestration.

The lights and sounds of a concert require considerable offstage orchestration.

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When caught up in the sights and sounds of a concert, the audience might often gloss over the details and work that goes into making the performance so engaging. Two major requisites for a successful show include top quality light and sound. Such excellence requires a finely-coordinated effort by skilled individuals, and a host of technologies, to achieve.

Venue Considerations

For those who manage or set up light and sound, a concert's venue always becomes a primary concern. Open air stadiums seldom have problems with interference from reflected sound as do indoor concert halls, but they create difficulty in maintaining proper lighting levels as day transitions into night. Weather always remains a concern with electronics, including lighting and sound equipment, requiring extra precautions during potentially wet or windy weather. Indoor venues require additional set-up time and effort to compensate for audio issues within the halls, such as echoes, but, unless performers change, these efforts usually require only minimal management once set. Lighting an indoor venue usually proves a less strenuous endeavor than an outdoor one.

Lighting Basics

Devices called fixtures provide concert lighting. Most concerts utilize one of four basic types of fixture. Wash lights provide a natural soft-edged beam, while spot lights offer a focused beam used to accent a performer or performance element. Beam lights, compact lights with uneven but powerful lighting effects, commonly come to the forefront in rock concerts. Flood lights get used for broad illumination of an area, such as a backdrop. Technicians generally mount fixtures on overhead hardware through a process called rigging. Operators control lights with controllers that vary from simple manual switches to high-end computerized boards with programmable effects.

Sound Basics

Though some performers go on without the aid of electronic amplification, most concerts rely on a variety of digital devices to provide a quality experience to all attendees. Most instruments have one or more microphones to amplify their sounds. Some instruments, such as electric keyboards or guitars, require conversion of a digital signal into sound. Cables carry all of these audio signals to a mixing board, where an engineer balances the volume levels so the sound of one instrument does not dominate the others. The mixed audio goes out to "house" speakers aimed at the audience to provide a quality rendition of the concert and "monitors," which point at the performers so they can keep time and tune when barraged by the sounds of their fellow artists.

Coordinating Light and Sound

Concert sound and lighting require substantial effort to get set up, but they also need numerous adjustments during a performance. Sound adjustments, subtle at times, may also provide key additional effects on an instrument or voice for a specific section of the performance. A single individual at a mixing panel usually coordinates sound. Concert lighting, unlike sound, usually requires constant management. The staff will sometimes pre-program these adjustments, requiring nothing more than the press of a button to initiate. However, for spotlights and other variable elements, one or more individuals operate a specific fixture manually. A team in constant communication via wireless headsets usually coordinates timing cues and the overall lighting effort.

About the Author

Andy Klaus started his writing career contributing science and fiction articles to Dickinson High School's newsletters back in 1984. Since then, he has authored novels and written technical books for health-care companies such as VersaSuite. He has covered topics varying from aerospace to zoology and received an associate degree in science from College of the Mainland.

Photo Credits

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