With the launch of the latest edition—the third, to be exact—of Concert Lighting, available September 29 from Amazon.com and Focal Press Books, we caught up with its author, James Moody, Ed.D., and contributing writer Paul Dexter to talk about the book and the biz.
MS: First, how did the two of you come to collaborate on this book?
JM: I have known Paul for many years. He worked at my touring lighting company, Sundance Lighting. Later he worked at ELS in Los Angeles and began writing articles…and we started communicating again. So when I decided that I had too much on my plate to get this new edition together, I thought of Paul. I already knew he could write, and he had the added bonus of still being a touring designer so he would have experienced the latest equipment and methods.
PD: I used to prepare major tour lighting systems and measure cable lengths around Jim’s backyard pool! Sundance had a meteoric rise then with all the big names like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart, and Frank Zappa, to name a few. I was inspired by Jim’s ability to get so much done and in those days. He was a prolific writer with the trades, and he edited my first article for Lighting Dimensions in 1978. Since then, I’ve written over 80 columns and of course, grown as a lighting designer. Jim and I have had this as-close-to-a-family bond as possible without being biologically related and curiosity as to what each other’s projects were over the years, albeit thin at times, but in any case, we stayed in contact.
MS: The book is now in its third edition. What’s new with this version?
JM: So much, first new chapters on LEDs, new control protocols, artists’ discussion—Paul’s idea—and expanded sections on ancillary equipment.
PD: The Second Edition was published circa 1997. As you can imagine, the changes are vast, one being that concert lighting has become a much bigger business. Companies have been bought, sold, and new businesses have opened their doors since 1997. There are more manufacturers and with that, new technologies that not only affect what we do but pervade themed entertainment from exhibits to films and architectural lighting. Third Edition covers the time gap, revealing new technology: LEDs, control, and the evolution of digital lighting and media servers. For me, engaging the artists that you light are paramount to your influencing design and what make that design different from another. For the first time, we’ve included a section with three, known artists: Ronnie James Dio, Kevin Cronin, and Gil Moore. It’s important to understand that artists are living a completely different set of rules than road crew. Third Edition explains that divide and how to engage the artist so that they may become involved with your design. This time though, the comments come straight from them. It’s an insightful and entertaining perspective.
MS: You say it’s not a textbook but more of a history lesson. Who will most find this book useful?
JM: Well yes, I mean that in the context that there are few schools teaching a specific course on concert lighting, so in that sense it is not a textbook. I started the series as a way to give graduate students information they couldn’t get in class and as a way to communicate all that was new to fellow professionals.
PD: For me, it pertains to anyone that is involved in live concert touring or a concert touring vendor to have on hand and use as reference. It’s just an interesting read, not only about the technology that is out there, but about the industry as a whole, how it evolved, and what to expect when going on the road. This book would be useful to the stage lighting student or aspiring concert lighting designer that yearns to know more. It dispels the notion that life on the road is glamorous but tells you what to look out for and how rewarding it can truly be. It’s not a textbook in the sense that there will be a quiz after you read it, in part or whole. Your test comes in the form of how you will behave on the road.
MS: You include pretty comprehensive information about various manufactures. How do you decide whom to include? When do you have to stop before it’s too many, and you have a 1,000-page book?
JM: That was the hard part. We’d have easily gone to 1,000 pages if Focal Press had allowed it, but the deal was that, if they did this edition in full color—how great—we had to stay within the same page count as the last edition. The other great thing that happened was that, by the change in the layout format, even though the page size stayed the same, we got a lot more “words” on those pages. And the decision on which manufacturers to highlight was very tough. There is a tremendous amount of good equipment out there but space, as I said, was limited, so I hit on the idea of at least listing all the websites I could find so the reader could search out those that were not shown.
PD: That’s a good question. This book was never meant to be a source for manufacturers. There are plenty of directories that serve that purpose. The highlighted companies were chosen because they are either the most widely used and popular among rental vendors and designers or unique to serve as example as to what is available.
MS: You talk about digital lighting/media servers in one chapter and how the lighting designer has been elevated to more of a visual artist—that pesky convergence issue again. Is this a good thing?
JM: I think it is, but Paul has been in the trenches on this one...
PD: I think so. If you’re going to make money in this business, diversify, don’t specialize. For a concert lighting designer or director, it is good for art and for business. As an artist, you have another large and growing piece of the visual show that has been gifted to you with movie clips, moving graphics, manipulating stills, and custom content. If you have control of that visual show—in the lighting console, along with your other cues—it will make you that much more valuable in business. If you do more, you make more and your client will not be able to live without you.
MS: Will your next edition be entirely LEDs? Seems like things are going in that direction.
JM: For every edition, I have asked all the contributors what they think the next big change will be, and illumination source has always been the consistent answer. LEDs—been there now on to possibly plasma? Who knows what is being developed in some basement lab, but I assure you that now that Fortune 500 companies have become backers; money is now available to let the floodgates open on engineers’ imaginations.
PD: LEDs have certainly added a new dynamic to lighting, but who knows what is around the corner? I compare the lighting designer to James Bond in a movie, where he has Q engineering all the lethal toys. Bond saunters in and learns about the rocket-firing cigarette from Q and then uses it to save the world at the crucial moment. The lighting designer has all the related-to-our-business engineers of the world figuring out new toys, and then we get to use them. Now, if they could only figure out how to save the world too.
MS: What developments do you think have been the most groundbreaking in the history of concert lighting?
JM: So many—trusses, lifts, chain motors, brighter/smaller light sources, moving luminaries, more flexible lighting consoles. Where do we stop? How can one be more important than the other?
PD: Truss and rigging to allow complete sky-is-the-limit structure flexibility; DMX dimming and control (from analog); multi-connectors; integrating advanced computer protocols; Vari-Lite; LEDs in all their shapes as fixtures and screens; control consoles; the digital light and media servers; visualization programs—amazing!
MS: You dedicate a section to master designers. Who are the key figures (designers, programmers, R+D engineers, etc.) in concert lighting history from your perspective?
JM: Bill Klages, a master television lighting director, was asked if he thought the video controller should receive the Emmy as part of the lighting director reward. Bill was always a big supporter of those technicians’ contributions to the end product. However, he said the award was a creative award, and so they should be honored for their own technical talent. Concert designers are the same. Great programmers certainly are necessary and R&D people bend the metal, but what we see on stage is the vision of a designer.
PD: There are so many unsung heroes out there that recognizing all contributors could be a book in itself. Chip Monk had huge influence in the early 70s with the (then enormous) concert systems he used with the Rolling Stones, and by the way, he wrote the forward to the book. Up until that point, nobody had seen anything like it. Tom Fields and Jim Moody certainly carved their niches with combining knowledge toward refining mobility/lighting packaging and joining forces to form an alliance to cover the two American coasts. Companies like Tasco (London) was one of the first combined sound and lighting production companies, and then Light & Sound Design (Birmingham) started the bigger is better revolution and more racks of PARs than imaginable, beginning with AC/DC. Moving more into modern days, U2’s designer, Willie Williams, has stunned us with his new (huge) designs incorporating lighting/staging and media in unique ways that only others can follow. This list only scratches the surface.
MS: It’s nice to see the ETCP getting some recognition in the book for pushing safety standards. Do you think these types of certifications are going to become more of a requirement in touring and in venues?
JM: Yes, in fact I just read that in the past year the number of employers insisting that riggers and master electricians have the ETCP Certificates has risen 80%. As you may know, I am co-chair of the Essential Skills committee for ESTA, where we are developing the same standards for entry level people. So the contribution by ESTA is far from complete. Safety can never be short changed, and these efforts by the IA, facilities, manufacturers, and artists are a great example of the industry pulling together to keep everyone safe.
MS: What’s the more important idea or lesson you want readers to take away from reading this book?
JM: That there are no boundaries. Take what we have written or what the designers have presented, and use what works in your situation. No one is perfect, and what I have written is out there to show all my warts. By that I mean, learn from the good and the bad, don’t copy, make it your own. That is what learning from history is; you can’t move forward without knowing what was tried in the past.
PD: That lighting has several facets that encompass art and business and that we have evolved from pioneers and ended up with a tremendously successful business, spanning 46 years. We are privileged to work with an industry that has so many opportunities and growth potential (still!) and one that attracts like-minded people. The lesson is that we want to continually raise the bar; the more that you can invest, embrace, and involve yourself in terms of technology, design, equipment, communication, and relations, the higher the dividends will be for you, your clients, and for audiences alike.