Color Part II: Color on Stage

I’m guessing I had to pry you away from practicing coloring mixing on your consoles to read this. What? The color picker? Sure you could use that, but that would be cheating now, wouldn’t it? For those of you that don’t know what the color picker is, let’s start there…

Color Picker: Most consoles have a feature that let you pick a color by just touching the screen to the color you desire. This is fun for about the first five seconds as you drag your finger across the screen and watch the lights scroll through colors. After that, I almost never used it. I just preferred to use the color wheels to get the colors I wanted. How many colors should you have for presets in your console? This is an age old question that goes back to the dawn of time (well, maybe not that far, but you get what I mean). I think you need one shade of each of the standard colors (red, yellow, amber, lavender, etc.) and then a couple of colors that have a few options (primary blue, cyan, dark blue). There are many, many LDs out there that need to have five different yellows and five different reds. That’s fine for them, just not for me.


You’ve got your preset colors in your desk and now it’s time to program, but what colors work for what type of songs? At this point many LDs will launch into cool v. warm colors and what works best where. I won’t be doing that. The fact of the matter is, you, as the LD, can take any color and make it work if you want to. If you want, you can take yellow and NC for a somber ballad by using shadows and intensity correctly. That is not to say that certain colors don’t work better for certain moods because we grow up learning to associate colors with moods (mood ring, anybody?). It’s about what feels right. And that’s what putting color on stage really is: feeling.
So, color on stage is about feeling.

Until next time…

Wait, that’s it? There has to be more, some other tips, tricks, insight, nonsense or otherwise, Right?

Fine, fine. There are a few things that are pretty standard, so I’ll go over a couple for you.

Listen to your artist. Color is where the artist tends to be the most picky. Normally they will have one or two colors they never want you to use (or in case of one artist I was with, only three colors I could use). I don’t care how much you like blue, if the popstar on stage says, “No blue,” you better figure out a new favorite color.

Have a congo, or dark blue stage wash ready between songs. Most acts like a glow on stage because they will trip and kill themselves if it’s pitch black (I had an artist slip on a piece of confetti one day. I can’t make this stuff up).

Red and green usually only work in a Christmas show. This is the toughest color combo to pull off because these colors have been drilled into our collective conscious to mean Christmas. So use at your own risk unless you are singing about jolly old St. Nick.

The jelly bean effect. This is caused by a large number of colors on stage at one time (like all the colors in a bag of jelly beans). Some people really enjoy this look, and for certain songs it does work (one of the best uses was HonkyTonk Badonkadonk). I prefer…

Widespread Panic. LD Paul Hoffman. Photo by Joshua Timmermans.
Widespread Panic. LD Paul Hoffman. Photo by Joshua Timmermans.

No more than two colors, please. As I progressed in my touring career I realized that I only like two colors (with some NC, maybe) for any given song. I had some favorite combinations (cyan and yellow, red and yellow, amber and blue) that I used pretty often. Instead of lots of colors on stage, I tried to use the fixtures and how they were placed to change the feel of the show.

Here Come the Mummies. LD Jake Tickle.
Here Come the Mummies. LD Jake Tickle.

The color wheel, friend or enemy? For you new programmers out there, learn the way the colors are lined up in your color wheel. If you are in yellow and you want to go to blue but there are three colors between them, you need to fade your fixture out or else you will see the other three colors before you get to the blue. Needless to say, this could be very distracting at times. With color mixing this is not an issue because of the way the CMY works in fixtures. Most fixtures can do a split color where you get half a beam of the two colors you split. While I don’t recommend you do this a lot, every now and again can be interesting.

Let’s end this week on something fun, the color roll. This is where the fixture just spins the color wheel going from color to color. You can set the speed as needed for the song. Once again, this is not normally something I use but, two of my favorite looks that I have personally been involved with use color rolls (one by Steve Campbell on the Newsboys and one I did on a Winter Jam tour).

Once again, I didn’t get into color temperature, lighting on video, or even talk about gels and scrollers (yes, scrollers). Another post for another week.

Until next time, “If you want 100,000W of red, the only way you can do it is with scrollers.” Howard Ungerleider talking about the Van Halen tour in 1998.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s