Sound, Lighting and Staging for a Fair, Festival or Event
by Larry Ward, Event Production and StageforRent.com
While it is true and accepted that this one book can in no way cover everything you need to know about putting on an event, this section can not cover much more ground than the basics to help you get going. We have to have such a wide inventory of equipment from the small amount needed by some events to the multiple semi loads for the larger events that the same rules don't apply to all events.
Things have changed so much in the fi eld of production. Back when this book was first written 20 years ago the standard package for a top of the line, national entertainer for a fair or festival was much less. If you had a stage that was 20' by 30', with a roof on crank up lifts, a lighting system with 24 Par 64 fixtures and a 24 channel sound system you could handle most any fair or festivals needs.
It is not that way these days. Many small festivals only require one of our mobile hydraulic stages. The advantage of these is that they are 14' by 32' or 37' or 40' and are very quick to set up.
From the time the stage is parked and the truck is unhooked it is only a 20-minute task for our delivery driver to completely unfold and set up the complete stage deck and roof. These stage units have built-in lighting, outlets, and are just the ticket for the small to medium festival, fair or political event. Often artists that provide their own audio use these stages; however, they can be used with one of our sound systems and can do many larger acts.
If you only need to operate the built-in ceiling lights, then the power required is only a regular house type 20 amp plug-in.
When you get into the regional and lower level national acts, we suggest a 25' by 40' that is higher off the ground; the roof goes higher and can have a front and back Par 64 lighting system with 60K of lighting.
Larger acts for bigger events need a much larger set up. The standard for a large act these days is a 40' deep by 75' wide or more. The riders the acts provide will want the roof to be able to hang at least 120 Par 64 fixtures at a height of 20-30 feet, special effect lights, and moving lights. These type setups require a sound system with 56 inputs, semi loads of speakers and many technicians to operate.
The standard rider for a national act I have shown below would be an average rider that most any act that a fair or festival would book might have. The problem in the industry is that in addition to the cost of the major entertainers, the additional cost to the event of the production outlined on the rider is expensive.
The combined stage, sound, and lighting package required by this act would cost your production company well over a million dollars to purchase. It would require one to two semi loads for the stage unit: one semi for the lighting and one for the audio.
Now add in the costs of semi trucks at $100,000 each, four drivers, several techs, and diesel fuel at around $3.00 per gallon. To do an outdoor festival with these specifications, plan on providing a 20-man crew for two days to set it all up. So you see why your local production companies, whoever they are, have to charge what appear to be big fees for their services.
Please take the time to read in detail the following rider. Yes, it is complicated and boring, but having to provide each and every detail is what you are committing to when you book the artist. This is what your production company is faced with in having to provide your event. If you don't understand every single little detail of the rider then you must hire a production company you can trust and let them handle the million details on your behalf. (Hint: Hire us!)
In addition to the production costs for the big shows, you have what appear to be excessive electrical requirements. I can't count the number of times an event just didn't believe me when we told them how much power was needed. Here is some basic ohms law math. A standard Par 64 fi xture is a 1000-watt bulb. If you take the standard 120 (minimum) number of fi xtures, then 120 fi xtures times 1000 watts, 120,000 watts will be needed. Next, if you take 120,000 watts divided by 120 volts, you fi nd you need 1000 amps total. If you have single phase power, that is 500 amps per each leg. If you have 3-phase power, you are down to 333 amps per leg. Keep in mind this is just for the basic 120 fi xtures, now add moving lights and other special effect lights and the needs go up. To make things more interesting, let's now add in an additional source of 100-150 amps per leg on up for the audio, and you need a lot of power. It is usually recommended to run the audio from the power company supply and to rent a large diesel generator for the lighting needs.
The next expense for you to consider is the issue of stagehands. In order to save you the event, and a ton of money, it is common for the production company as well as the larger bands to bring a minimum of people and rely on you to provide the "grunt" labor.
If we are to bring our own people for all aspects of the event, we would have to pay labor costs for the travel days, meals and motels, and the extra labor costs would have to continue during the event when they are not really needed for a few days. This would cost many thousands of dollars.
So the common contract is written with the labor being provided by the local folks that can be hired by you, just when needed, and they can go home and sleep in their own beds each night. Now, here is where the problem comes in. The vast amount of equipment needed to do these shows means the local labor is mandatory.
When you hire a production company, you expect them to come to town and perform an agreed to list of duties. In exchange for their experience and equipment rental, you then pay them in the following ways. You give them money, labor, meals, and motels. Now, if you don't provide the labor as expected, that is the same as if your check bounces. It is not something you do because you are being nice, or being helpful. It is an agreed to part of the contract. It is not optional, but rather a very important part of their bid. Remember, it saves you in the long run.
If the event is in a large city, you may have to provide union labor. In some cases, you can hire the local football team, or go to a manpower-type temporary service, etc. The days of relying on volunteer labor is long gone; it simply won't work once the volunteers realize how much work is involved.
We have had excellent results using work release prisoners. Another cost that is typical these days is a complete separate set of FOH and Monitor system for any opening acts. The days are gone where the headliner will allow any equipment to be moved or any knob turned after their sound check is finished. They just spent hours getting every little thing just like they want it, and don't want anyone changing or using any of it. So… if you have an opening act, be prepared for additional charges for in essence, another complete sound system less the main speakers for them to use.
This large amount of additional equipment and complexity also means that between acts you have to allow anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The days of having one group start right after moving a microphone stand or two are long gone.
Some common terms that new comers to your event will encounter are:
- Rider is the addendum to the contract you use to hire a band that tells you what is required for the act to perform, such as the stage, sound, lighting, food, motels, etc.
- Par can is a standard lighting fixture.
- Follow spot is the bright lights in the rear of the audience that shine the round circle of light on the singer and follow him or her around the stage.
- FOH means front of house and is where the front mixing console is. The operator that is out in front of the stage operates the half of the sound system that the audience hears.
- Monitor deck or monitor world is where the console and operator is that controls the other half of the sound system that controls only what the bands on stage hear. The monitor and house systems take completely different equipment and technicians.
- Guitar world is an addition to the stage area where the guitar tech will restring and tune the guitars.
- Backline refers to the guitar amplifi ers, drums, and other instruments the band requires.
- Load in is when the band will arrive to start setting up.
- Doors is a term that refers to the time the general public will be allowed into the venue.
- Sound check is a time set aside for the adjustment of all the sound equipment.
- Focus is a time set aside to aim each and every individual light on the performers.
- Deck refers to the stage fl oor you stand on.
- Top refers to the roof above your head.
- Wings refer to the area added onto the stage on each side to hold the speakers.
- Snake refers to the cable that runs from the stage to the FOH position. This cable is full of hundreds of very small delicate wires. It is not a heavy duty electric cable with three or four big wires in it that it looks like. It costs many thousands of dollars and you cannot drive over it. EVEN WITH A GOLF CART.
- Stage plot is a drawing that shows where every band member, monitor speaker, microphone, etc. is physically located on the stage.
- Lighting plot is a drawing that will show what color each and every light needs to be, and what channel on the console it need to be patched into.
- Gel is the colored sheet that is placed in front of the white par can fixture to make it whatever color is needed.
- Set refers to the show time and length.
- MC is the master of ceremonies, or your announcer.