The story of a lighting upgrade.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
My dad has a list of maxims about life, with one of the most memorable being “It always costs more and takes longer than you think.” I’ve never doubted that particular piece of Papa’s wisdom, but it’s not often that it’s so perfectly demonstrated in practical reality. There’s a bit of a tale here, if you haven’t guessed:
This last weekend was the final (as far as is currently planned) Floyd Show.
Floyd Show was a Utah-based tribute act that performed (what else?) the music of Pink Floyd. They were fronted by Tim Hollinger, a monstrously talented guy who probably knew more about Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd did. Tim loved to push the boundaries of what could be achieved in a small-venue setting, and this caused his productions to be what I can only describe as “deliciously challenging.” Working on a gig that takes a day or more to setup, with the stage packed full of people and gear, and the mix being done in quadrophonic surround is the kind of unbridled hilarity that I live for.
And then, Tim unexpectedly passed away.
It was decided that there would be one more gig to “close the shop.” This would be the last, planned chance to work on the biggest production show that comes through my regular job. (Roll The Bones, our local Rush tribute, will now take the top spot.) Since this was the last chance, and I had been wanting to install a lighting upgrade to – among other reasons – do Floyd Show justice, the announcement of the show prompted a “rush to completion.” Yes, I had wanted to wait longer, but this was it. There might never be another opportunity to do a night that came close to what I had wanted to do with Tim at the helm.
I wanted to have plenty of time to get things working, so I started the upgrade a month before downbeat.
The upgrade was finished about four hours before the show started.
A partial reason that everything took a while is because I was being cautious.
I wanted to use moving-head wash lights, but what I wanted in terms of equipment hasn’t really been a priority for the mainstream light manufacturers. Moving-head spots that use optics to create a sharp-edged beam are everywhere. Spendy ($400+) movers built around some kind of soft-edge beam are only slightly less common than dirt. This is all fine and dandy, but truly entry-level moving-heads are basically “off the radar” for even ADJ and Chauvet. I checked with my favorite “off-the-wall and discounted” lighting vendor, and they had the fixture that I wanted…but at a price point that was too close to the next step up to be much of a differentiation.
I checked with some Ebay vendors, and behold! The fixture I wanted was available at a price that was commensurate with what it could do.
Even so, as I said, I wanted to be cautious. I wanted to buy just a couple of units at first, so that if what I got was utter rubbish I would be able to recover in time. I got my first shipment, and the news was good and bad.
On the good side, the lights had a LOT more output than I expected. I had figured that they would outdo the RGBA “puck-pars” that were currently hanging at the venue, but I was pretty surprised at just how much “firepower” a cheap mover could have. (A relatively tight beam angle helps greatly, of course.) Both units moved well, responded to their control panels, and could successfully reset themselves in a reliable fashion.
The bad news was that one of the units refused to shut off its blue LEDs under any circumstances.
I figured that this was just an odd fluke, and I contacted the vendor about a return. It took a couple of days to get things sorted out, but the whole shootin’-match satisfied me enough that the vendor got the sale for the rest of the fixtures. Back to the source went the problem child, and just like that, only three weeks of lead-time remained.
Stand and Deliver
What I had also discovered when I was testing my “trial balloon” fixtures was that mounting them to the installed, vertical stage truss wouldn’t be the greatest idea. The topmost light would have decent trim height, but other units hung below wouldn’t be in the best spot for maximum usability. This is where the “it costs more than you think” starts to come in. I had considered that light stands might be necessary, but I had managed to convince myself that the new toys might not truly require them.
I needed DMX cable anyway, so I visited my aforementioned “off-the-wall and discounted” gear vendor. I found some better-than-entry-level trees and placed my order.
Great – except that the warehouse wasn’t in a hurry to get things shipped. It was days before my order was on a truck. By the time all the lights and the stands were in my possession, I had only two-weeks of lead time.
When I ordered the stands, I had assumed that the included mounting hardware would do a satisfactory job at clamping the lights to the crossbars.
Getting the fixture bracket secured to the crossbar was an impossible task with the bolts and wingnuts supplied. The luminaires aren’t really heavy, but even a not-too-heavy light can be a bit much when you need to hold it in the air, maneuver it so that a non-captive bolt goes through a hole in a bracket, and then keep the whole shebang still while you fumble with washers and wingnuts in a small space. In theory, it all works. In practice, not so much.
I needed to order O-clamps. More cost.
One week of “lead” remained. After that, it would be the week of the show. The gear had to arrive on time, and it had to work, or things would get REALLY tight and REALLY spendy.
This was not the time to go through a discount vendor. It was time to call someone who would ship in a day – so, I did. Through a minor misadventure, I actually got upgraded shipping. That was an important help.
Down To The Wire
My clamps arrived in time for the weekend preceding the big gig. I then proceeded to realize that I’m the dumbest guy to ever hang a light in this town.
See, I hadn’t worked with O-clamps before. It didn’t take long to figure out the rock-bottom basics (they’re not complicated creatures), but I didn’t exactly take note of every functional thing about them. I managed to get the first light hung. Then, I tried to clamp the second light – to no avail. No matter how I tried, I could not get the clamp to close sufficiently for the retention bolt to be swung into position.
“Cheap crap,” I thought.
“I can fix this,” I thought.
I yanked one of the inserts out of the offending clamp, which made internal diameter wider. I then folded over a napkin to put in place of the insert, which allowed the clamp to close more tightly with just finger-pressure. This allowed me to swing the retention bolt up, and then tighten the whole assembly. It wasn’t pretty, but it did work. “I’m resourceful!” I congratulated myself.
The next clamp didn’t need all that falderol, but the fourth did. The fifth clamp was fine out of the box, but the sixth was a pain.
It was while I was struggling with clamp #6 that I made an important discovery: The nut tightening the retention bolt could be loosened a great deal before it came off the assembly. By pure luck, I had loosened the nut sufficiently on some of the clamps to allow me to use them as intended. On the others, I simply hadn’t gone far enough. There was NOTHING WRONG with the clamps – the problem was the idiot using them. (Me, in other words.)
All of my futzing had cost me time, but I was able to get all the lights ignited and a few basic cues built. I figured that the next evening would allow me the time to get more done…except I misjudged how early I would need to arrive, especially because the band was coming in early themselves to prep for a video shoot. The lights were re-hung, and a few more cues were programmed, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be when I had to switch gears to tasks that were “mission critical for RIGHT NOW.”
I figured that our scheduled, Floyd Show prep-day would afford me all the remaining time needed to get the lights programmed.
Can you see where this is going?
Prep-day arrived, and I went in promptly after lunch. Even so, the “must do this now” portion of what I had to accomplish (which mostly amounted to a clear stage) took until the first musician arrived. We moved the light trees, which caused a latent problem in the electronics of one of the fixtures to reveal itself. I reworked my hang to fix the issue, and by the time all that was done, the rest of the players were in the room. It was time to do other things, again.
Those other things revealed that there were some pretty rough edges around the sonic part of the show, but it was getting rather late and there was no time to fix them.
So everything got pushed into the next day.
It was about 2:00 PM on show-day when I finally started programming the light show in earnest. It was about 5:00 when I had what I needed.
Downbeat was at 9:00 PM.
It always costs more and takes longer than you think.