The Tour Manager’s Guide to Being a Tour Manager, Part IV: Lighting Designers

TM Guide 4 Danny

Hi. My name is Danny and I’ve spent the last decade tour managing bands around the world. Normally I write city guides but now I’ve decided to write a how to about touring. JOIN ME. QUIT YOUR JOB. COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE. FUCKING READ THIS!!!!!!!!!


After the unbelievable viral response to my last blog post things changed. People wanted answers immediately and calls began flooding in. Thousands of people with hopes and dreams of becoming a tour manager demanded I prematurely release my work. People on tour wanting a solution to their problems called me frantically… frantically looking for answers. I needed to expand the operation. No more games.

“NO MORE GAMES”

“NO MORE FAHKIN GAMES”

To help with calls I hired an assistant named Marco and we posted up in a hip, millennial, workspace in WEHO. Too little too late. After two days Marco became so overwhelmed that he lept off the 91st floor of our workspace in WEHO and tumbled through NOBO, all the way to WAMO and then blew up in WINO and was buried in NOMBO.

MARCO. 1934 - 2016
MARCO. 1934 – 2016

Marco’s gruesome suicide in WEHO and subsequent burial in NOMBO didn’t slow down the flood of calls. My cell phone number was released on the internet and my phone would not stop ringing. I fell down on my knees in the rain like Andy Dufrain after he escaped from Shawshank and screamed, “World! I know you hate your life! I know you want to escape your problems and I’m the man to help but you must let me mourn Marco! Let me mourn Marcooooooo! Mother nature’s tears slowed to a stop and for a few brief moments there was PEACE… THEN:

Danny Carissimi having a moment.
Danny Carissimi having a moment.

RING RING

ME: (sniffles) Hello?

JOE BIDEN: (out of breath) Oh man, Danny oh man (rips bong).

ME: Vice President Joe Biden?

JOE BIDEN: Ya you got that right. Oh man I’m in a pickle here down in Sydney. I need your help, Danny.

ME: Look Joe, if they caught you selling weed again it’s not a big deal. You’re the vice president and probably have some sort of diplomatic immunity.

JOE BIDEN: No no man. It’s a lot worse. Axl’s on a rampage. His backstage ham wasn’t cubed, then all these groupies broke through door 2 and took off Slash’s hat. And when Slash wanted his top hat back they put him in the middle and played monkey in the middle. I don’t know what to do. Your blog inspired me so much I decided to leave it all behind and tour manage Guns n’ Roses stadium tour in Australia. And well…. And well…

ME: And… maybe you bit off more than you can chew?

JOE BIDEN: You got that right (hits bong). It all started when merch showed up late and I had to count in… and I said, I says to ‘em I says, “You’ns guys gotta get here earlier! How am I sposed to finish my SCRAPPLE?!”

ME: (Snaps out of funk and starts slapping self in face. Runs up wall like Jackie Chan, lands on feet like Jackie Chan) JOE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NUMBER ONE. Put away that god damn bong Mr. Vice President, it’ll cloud your judgment. Tour Managers are around the party but we don’t party till the job is done. MAYBE a beer or shot with the band before the set. TWO. Check your blue collar Pennsylvania colloquialisms at the fucking door man. You are a long way from Scranton buddy and we need these Aussies to understand your ass. THREE. You must delegate!!!!

JOE BIDEN: Oh god… oh god I think I hear Axl coming up the stairs… I forgot the doo rags on his rider and the corn row stylist cancelled!

ME: Joe, are you hiding out at the arena taking bong rips?

JOE BIDEN: You’ns don’t know what it’s like…

ME: Listen to me very carefully. You have to trust your team! Yes, go down and make sure your merch person is setting shit up but don’t count in. Make sure your FOH is mixing sound, but don’t try and mix sound. And I’m sorry, you aren’t gonna like this but if the venue didn’t cube the ham… well fucking tough luck. Ask them to have it changed. And in the meantime say, “Axl, apologies about that. I told the venue to cube the ham, provide doo rags, and bring in a corn row specialist. It didn’t happen. But I’ll go talk to them and sort it out. You focus on the performance. I’ll focus on this. And if it doesn’t happen I’ll make sure it does next time.”

JOE BIDEN: Then I go cube the hams?

ME: NO! DELEGATE!

JOE BIDEN: You’ns don’t know what it’s like… Oh my god Axl is in here. No! No!!!!!!! I THOUGHT IT WAS CUUUUUUBEEEEDDDD FHSDFKJSADFLKJSDFDLKJ……

DIAL TONE

ME: Vice president Joe Biden stay on the line! Stay on the line! Joe…

As you can see it’s been a tough week. Hopefully Joe is alright. But Joe Biden learned an important lesson today. You gotta make sure everyone is doing their job before digging into that scrapple or “pan rabbit”. But how can you make sure everyone is doing their job if you don’t know what they do?

Unfortunately there’s no way around that. You need to know what they do. Today we will further our discussion on the other jobs found on tour. Last week we focused on Sound Engineers. Today we will focus on Lighting Designers.

  1. Front of House (FOH): Mixes the sound the audience hears.
  2. Monitor Engineer: Mixes sound the band hears onstage.
  3. Lighting Designer (LD): Sets up lights and operates them.
  4. Merchandise: Sells the band’s merchandise at the venue.
  5. Stage / Production manager: In charge of setting up the stage.
  6. Tech: Musician assistant onstage. Someone that specifically helps a guitarist, drummer, or bassist.
  7. Roadie: Hired hand to help move things around, build the stage, load the gear out, deconstruct the stage. Carries and sets up things. First in, last out.
  8. Groupie: Man or woman with low self esteem.

L(ighting)D(esigner)

Last week I said that mixing sound is the most desirable job on tour. Light design is up there with mixing sound but I give sound the edge only because it’s more employable. A band will employ someone to mix their sound a long time before they’ll employ an LD to make the lights look better. But we will get more into that.

When you see a show and all the lights are going wild and kids are having seizures and foaming at the mouth, you’re seeing the work of an LD… or one kick ass drug dealer. A lighting designer sits next to the front of house behind a console and controls all the lights onstage. LD’s have a fun job because there is an element of creativity. Artists of course, usually, come up with an idea of how they’d like their show to look. They may say, “I want blue lights and screens and moving lights and then BANG! BLUE LIGHTS AGAIN! Then red lights then BLUE LIGHTS! (holds down LD) I SAID BLUE LIGHTS!”

BLUE LIGHTS! (holds down LD and puts palms over their nose and mouth) I SAID BLUE LIGHTS!”

Depending on the size of the band and room, the LD seeks out specific lights and comes up with a show. Sometimes these lighting shows are “pre programmed”, which means the show is predetermined and the same every night, and sometimes the lights are done on the spot and the LD has the ability to change things up and keep it fresh.

Just about every venue has a “ house (house always means venue) lighting rig” or “shitty set of lights”. I’m kidding of course. Not all of them are shitty at the venue but most are. Any time you see a big time show, the band brought their own lights. Sounds expensive right? It is. Certain companies like Cour Design offer a cheaper lighting alternative but for the most part bringing lights means you need to bring big ass lights and metal contraptions to hold them up. On smaller to medium sized tours lighting designers will come and help set up these lights. When the the lights are set up they retire to their little desk in the middle of the audience and make everything shiny. If it’s a huge tour the lighting designer will just show up and work the desk. Minions and crusty ass roadies will get in early and set it all up.

Pros of being an LD?: It’s a solid skill position so there is demand if you are good at the job and not a dick bag to be around. Since lights are so dang expensive, bigger tours are the only ones that have them. And do you know what bigger tours have? More money. And do you know what more money brings? Comfort. You’ll be in a bus pretty much guaranteed. You are removed from the artist. If anyone in the sound world fucks up the artist knows immediately and will chew them out immediately. Lights are a fairly pre organized shtick. If you mess up it’s a massive fuck up but for the most part you aren’t gonna have to like meet with the artist after every show and discuss how the lights are. It’s sorta like, “Were they on? Were they blue? I love blue. Cool.” It can have an interesting trajectory into stage design and management. It’s  creative job and there aren’t many of those when you are crew.

Olive Garden Bread Dicks don’t get hired as LDs.
Olive Garden Bread Dicks don’t get hired as LDs.

Cons of being an LD?: Since lights are dang expensive only big tours have them. But mid sized tours offer lots of work. There are so many middling bands that can play 2-5,000 cap rooms and pay you well. BUT, as said before sound engineers get picked first, then merch and tour managers… so if the budget allows it… they’ll bring a lighting designer. Many times they don’t. That’s a lot of work to miss out on.

How to become an LD?: So many live shows have LDs, even ballet and theater companies. You learn at a venue and become their “house LD”. So bands come through every night, you do the lights, and eventually get good enough to get on tour. Only problem with this is that the lighting rigs at venues are so basic it’s hard to get any real experience. You need to go to a legit venue that has a legit set of lights. But there may be someone there already doing it. As with anything in entertainment it’s competitive. I’ve also heard of people being on tour and like starting to do lights for the band every night. Let’s say you go on as a merch seller and the band can’t afford an LD, hop on the lights. Learn how to use the board in every venue work and ask the house crew for help. If a tour is long enough you’d be surprised how much you learn. Then when the band needs an LD… maybe you are qualified to do it. You can also find jobs on Bobnet.

They were not a bag of dicks.
They were not a bag of dicks.

So that’s that. When you tour manage make sure your LD is up and running before eating your scrapple. Which if you’ve not caught on yet is a bizarre spam like substance I believe of Dutch origin found in certain parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio. No need to try it, I already did in an omelet once and well… anything that’s described as “a semi solid congealed loaf” needs to be left alone. Joe Biden AKA “Rabbit Loaf” is from Scranton and therefore you get the joke. Wait a minute my phone is ringing. AGAIN?!

RING RING

Me: Hello?

(muffled screams)

Axl Rose: Danny, it’s Axl. We have Biden.

To be continued…

Last photo of Joe Biden before being taken hostage by Axel Rose.
Last photo of Joe Biden before being taken hostage by Axl Rose.

Axl Rose


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