Here’s How to Light and Mask The Perfect Gig
You’ve made sure your BPMs are A-OK. You’ve got anti-rumble mats on your turntables. Your speakers have deep bass and clear treble. You’re going to sound like a professional party master! But, wait – have you thought about the way your party will look?
Lighting and masking are essential to any professional gig because of the atmosphere they help create. If the ambiance isn’t right, chances are your audience will feel shy approaching the dance floor or they might tire out after a few songs. By selecting the best lighting system and masking curtains for your gig, you elevate your performance and expand your business opportunities. After all, people are more likely to hire (and re-hire) a DJ who provides a full-service package.
Here are some things to consider before you begin shopping for lighting or masking equipment.
Theatrical and DJ Lights
Theatrical lighting is exactly what it sounds like – high-powered lights used in stage productions all across the globe. They are most often referred to as “cans” because the fixture holding the light source is shaped like a large, cylindrical can (an inventive name). While cans might appear similar on the outside, there are actually different types of cans available to meet most of your lighting needs. The two basic types are:
- Spotlight: Simply called spots, these powerful lights project a bright beam of light onto a specific place. The lens is adjustable so you’re able to widen or narrow the focus of the spot.
- Wash: These lights create an even spread of light because the beam is less focused than that of a spot. Think about spots as bringing something to the foreground, while wash lights create the background. Because the purpose is to provide a wide swath of light, most of these cans are unable to adjust the beam (check out Fresnel cans if you want that option).
It’s best to use a variety of can lights to create the look and feel of depth in your venue. You can even play with an almost unlimited supply of color with “gobos,” a dark plate or screen placed over the can opening to project a certain color (or even cool patterns). With today’s high-tech lighting technology, you can link your cans together in a unified system to create a synchronized, automated show that dances right alongside your audience.
Of course, if you want to create the look and feel of a high-energy dance club (even if you’re playing in a community center), think about investing in a laser light system, pixel-mapping lights, blacklights or even the classic mirror ball with accompanying spots. These types of lights are perfect for events where fog or haze will be used. Many laser light, pixel-mapping and blacklight systems even come with as many as 64 built-in pulse patterns or light patterns so you can match the mood with your personal aesthetic.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what kind of lighting system you need, you need to think about ways to disguise the “magic.”
Put simply, proper performance-quality curtains help hide things not meant to be seen and create a more professional appearance. Masking curtains can even help with the acoustics in the room for an enhanced auditory experience. Here’s a simple and quick guide to help you while you’re shopping around:
The first question you should ask yourself is: “What exactly do I want these curtains to do?” Once you’ve outlined the product’s purpose you can begin looking at the specific type of curtains needed to achieve your goal. Here’s the basic terminology you need to know before you shop around:
- Valance – Hangs in front of other curtains to mask the top of the curtain and/or lighting rig.
- Borders – The short curtains that are used to mask rigging systems, curtain tracks and lighting instruments from audience view. Borders are typically black and can be sewn with pleats to add fullness.
- Drop – A generic term for a piece of fabric suspended from a pipe batten and weighted with a pipe or chain in the bottom.
- Cyclorama – A cyclorama is a sewn drop typically located at the rear of the stage and can be lit with colored lights or projections to change the mood or atmosphere.
It’s important to carefully select the right type of fabric, not just for appearance but for safety, too. Look for synthetic fabrics as they are Inherently Fire Retardant (IFR) and easily meet building codes. The downside? These types of fabrics are more prone to wrinkles and creases than natural fibers, meaning you might have to spend more time ironing or steaming them before a gig.
Depending on its height and width, it’s important to consider the hem or “finish” of the curtain. Very tall fabrics are more likely to fold, flop or “hourglass” under their own weight. Adding a strengthening hem to the side minimizes this distortion. Grommets can be added across the top if you have a rigid truss system to tie to the curtain. Bottom finishes weight the fabric to stretch out wrinkles and create a clean, finished look. A hem pocket for an inserted pipe is the most popular type, although sometimes tape with lead weights or heavy chain may be used to allow the fabric to flow more easily.
With an increased attention to these aesthetic details, you can elevate your performance and increase your marketability. After all, you’ve spent so many hours perfecting your sound that you’re practically a work of art. Every work of art needs a good frame.