Musician's Tips Index  
Home page

American Musical Supply - your musical gear source your purchase helps keep our content free

Click for more Tips and How-To articles for musicians and performers
Is your Band Ready for
LED Stage Lighting?
Earth-friendly illumination makes your act look like a million bucks!

We've been watching the LED lighting trend the past few years and just upgraded the stage setup for our band. The results were beyond our wildest expectations.

Elation Opti RGB High-Output LED Color Changer
Elation Opti RGB High-Output LED Color Changer
Stage illuminated with Elation Opti RBG fixtures
Stage illuminated with four Elation Opti RGB high output LED color change fixtures. (Photo credit: Justin McCarron)

I'll bet that Thomas Edison never envisioned his incandescent light, invented in the late 1800s, would still be used by most stage acts in 2008 and beyond. Those light fixtures -- and the bulbs they use -- are inexpensive, but man, do they consume massive amounts of electrical energy!

A stage act using just eight 300-watt par lamps needs 2400 watts of AC power just for the lights, which is more than what a single 15 amp AC circuit can provide. It's hard enough to find the outlets on most stages, but to ensure that the outlets are also on different circuits is asking a lot. Use too much power on a single circuit, and you'll blow the breaker or fuse which means unplanned downtime during your set.

LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are a relatively recent innovation that produces an amazing amount of light for a minuscule amount of power. They also run extremely cool, so the lights can be placed closer to the performers. They have a much longer lifespan than incandescent or halogen lighting, with many LED fixtures rated for up to 100,000 hours (compare that to "long-life" incandescent par lamps of up to 2,000 hours)!

Opti RGB LED fixtures with color change effect -- click for larger photo Probably the greatest advantage is that a single LED fixture can be programmed to provide several different colors. Using RGB color mixing technology, a LED stage light can produce every color of the rainbow. With the right lighting controller, some LED lights can produce thousands of hues. What this means is that one LED unit, aimed at a performer, can do the work of six or seven different colored traditional PAR fixtures. (Photo credit: Justin McCarron)

Aside from the multi-color capabilities of LED fixtures, many also offer strobe light effects. This helps create excitement during drum solos or other parts of the show, especially when it is used as an effect and not overused.

What I was looking to do was supplement our existing incandescent PAR lineup with LED technology to help reduce our power footprint. We already had 24 traditional PARs on lighting trees and trusses. Any more and we'd have to upgrade our gas-powered generator! LED offered the promise of directional light, low power drain, and a multitude of colors from a single fixture.

Since there are a great variety of LED enclosures on the market, I researched the light output (measured in lumens), color blending, strobing features, dimming capability, warranty and price before I made my purchase decision. The best warranties I found were offered by Chauvet, Elation, and American DJ. There were several Chinese knock-offs that didn't offer a warranty, and one that did required that the customer return the enclosure to China for exchange! Obviously, the cost and time of doing so would mean I' be without a lighting unit for quite some time.

The fixture I decided on was the Elation Opti RGB color changer (I bought a total of four units). It features 24 huge LED modules, a cast aluminum enclosure and standard DMX (XLR style) connectors. Each Opti RGB unit can operate in a fully automatic mode, or in a master-slave relationship with one unit controlling others that are daisy-chained together. I also opted for the optional Elation DMX Operator programmable controller to store the scenes and allow our lighting technician to take charge during the show.

Since the controller can handle additional LED fixtures, our plan is to eventually purchase additional, smaller LED units to supplement what we already have. This will allow us to highlight additional areas of the stage, such as the keyboard pit, the bass drum, and some side fills.

When I unpacked the Opti RGBs, I was first off impressed by their sheer size. They are about as big around as a dinner plate and fairly hefty. I attached a Chauvet stage clamp to each, then prepared myself for the fun of programming them.

First off, I of course had to try the automatic mode. The Elation Opti RGB units went through their paces, displaying a shifting array of colors that were much brighter than I had anticipated. This made me quite happy, for I had originally planned to use them solely for stage washes. When I saw how much light these guys put out, I started thinking of using them as PAR replacements.

Next it was time to attach some DMX cables and configure the LED units in master-slave mode. The first Opti RGB fixture would go through its programs, sending the data via DMX to the other three slave units. This was as easy as ensuring that DIP switch 10 was either up or down. Piece of cake. This mode ensures that all four lights change and fade their colors in step with each other for a more professional look.

Okay, that worked, now to see what they'll do when attached to the Elation DMX Operator dedicated lighting controller. This entailed that I first set the DMX addresses for each lighting fixture so that they are different. The DIP switches made it easy. I could have set all the lights to the same DMX channel, which would have made all the lights respond simultaneously, but that would mean I couldn't have fixture 1 display red, fixture 2 display green and fixtures 3 and 4 display white at the same time. I wanted the flexibility of having each fixture displaying a different color (or all white, or half brightness, or off, or strobing), independent of what the fixture next to it is doing.

Now for the programming part. The Opti RGBs use a total of seven DMX channels that control the green, red and blue LEDs, whether to use RGB color mixing, whether strobing is on or off, and the overall brightness of all three lights. I sketched out some sample scenes on paper, then went ahead and entered them one at a time into the controller.

This is the part I like the best, when you enter commands into a controller or computer, then watch as the attached devices (in this case the Opti RGB units) display the results of those commands. I programmed in just six banks of eight scenes (for a total of 48 scenes), then set the remaining scenes in memory to enable sliders 1,2, and 3 so the lighting technician could manually mix the colors during the show.

We decided to do a charity event so we could test everything out. The Opti LEDs were hung on a 10-foot high, 15-foot truss, with the units spaced somewhat equally across the stage. We goofed on the LED in front of the bass player: it was directed right at his face, which turned out to be too much light for him. The other lights were directed at the performer's instruments, which turned out to work the best. See the photos on this page and also here.

I should mention that during setup, the sponsoring committee were very impressed that we had purchased an eco-friendly lighting solution. Especially since this was something they had never seen a local band use before. The facility manager was also pleased that he didn't have to go through his speech about overloading the AC power circuits. He was amazed of the low (25 watt per fixture) power requirements of the Opti RGB, especially considering the amount of light output they produce.

When your band takes the plunge to LED lighting, be sure to promote your use of low power, Earth friendly equipment. In fact, it may even get you a gig over competing bands, especially if the hiring party has made a corporate commitment to sustainability and the environment.

In summary, I'm glad we went with a high output LED fixture. The lights will pay for themselves in reduced maintenance (no more changing fragile PAR bulbs or colored gels or having to carry them to gigs) and ease of setup. It was a joy not having to worry about finding separate AC power circuits for the lights, or having to snake heavy gauge AC extension cords around the venue. (Heck, we'll save a bundle on gaffer's tape, too, since it takes a lot of that to keep audiences from tripping over exposed power cords.) From a performer's perspective, the band was elated with the stage temperature and the fact that the lights produced such a wide range of colors and strobing from a single fixture. We're already thinking of buying more!

Reported by Brett McCarron


Elation Opti RGB High-Output LED Color Changer

Elation Opti RGB High-Output LED Color Changer

The Opti RGB is a powerful DMX intelligent LED wash. This lightweight and compact wash is a great piece for mobile DJs and clubs. This unit can be used in stand alone or a sound-active mode. The unit can also be controlled via DMX controller.

Elation DMX Operator Programmable DMX Controller

Elation DMX Operator Programmable DMX Controller

Control up to 192 DMX channels with the Elation DMX Operator. The DMX Operator is programmable up to 240 scenes and features 12 individual fixture channels, so you can control up to 12 separate intelligent lights with up to 16 DMX channels per fixture. Fixtures with less than 16 DMX channels may be combined on 1 DMX scanner button. You can also record up to 6 programmable chases with fade time and speeds. 8 individual faders provide easy programmability for Intelligent Lighting or Dimmer Packs. MIDI controllable.

American DJ 3-Pin DMX Cable 25 FtAmerican DJ 3-Pin DMX Cable 25 FtAmerican DJ 3-Pin DMX Cable 25 Ft

American DJ 3-Pin DMX Cable

This cable features 22 AWG stranded (0.15 x 19) tinned copper conductors, polyethylene insulation, twisted pair, polyethylene inner jacket, Duofoil (100% coverage) and cotton plus a tinned copper braid shield (85% coverage). PVC jacket.

Chauvet Pro Clamp with 360 Degree Wrap

Chauvet Pro Clamp with 360 Degree Wrap

Fits 1", 1-1/2", or 2" pipes. Size 6" x 3-1/2" x 5".

American DJ Crank II Mobile Trussing System for Stage Lights

American DJ Crank II Mobile Trussing System for Stage Lights

The American DJ Crank II Mobile Trussing System is the ultimate mobile stand system making life on the road much easier. Before the Crank-2 you had to push your heavy lights up by hand. With this stage light truss system, you can set up everything at eye level, then easily crank up to 10" high. The rack offers heavy duty tripod stands and American DJ's road-durable steel I-beam trusses that hold up to 140 lbs.

See all stage and DJ lighting ...

14 LED Lighting Tips

More musician's tips and tricks »»

Copyright © 1996-2018
Trademarks and copyrights used herein are the property of their respective holders.