Lighting and audio-visuals are an aspect of event production that can at times be overlooked or misunderstood. Nevertheless, it is an important element that can make or break any event, as well as the experience overall and the lasting brand image you hope your attendees leave with. Undoubtedly, extreme technical expertise and a sense of flair are needed to pull off such a spectacle.
This particular expertise is the specialty of people like Steve Lieberman, a notable production lighting expert for music festivals and similar productions. Steve has worked on the lights and visual design of hundreds of productions, including popular music festivals such as Coachella, EDC, Insomniac, and Ultra. His is expertise drawn from years of experience, beginning in the 1990s when he started working on lighting for underground rave parties in New York.
With considerable experience under his belt, Lieberman eventually went on to start his own lighting business during his final year in college. He initially struggled in the business, as the type of productions he worked on, namely raves and electronic dance music events, were not as highly-regarded in the music industry then as they are now. Nevertheless, he was able to carry on long enough to see the electronic music scene explode, resulting in more airplay, as well as increased attendance in music festivals.
At the same time technology, especially for lighting, improved as well and continued to do so. Today, there is an incredible variety of lights to use for various settings, in fact so much variety that it can be hard to keep track of them all. Daunting as it may be, Steve manages to effectively use the right lighting and visual equipment for any event, no matter the size and scope.
“When you’re designing festival lighting, we’re doing stage design. We don’t have the infrastructure of a nightclub,” he expounded. “Festivals’ budgets tend to dwarf nightclubs…I build a small city and spend a small fortune for an EDC stage for a three-day show. Whereas I’ll spend just a percentage of that on venue lights that live four to six years. So the tools are very different.”
He also pointed out that the lighting strategy will vary depending on the presentation or event. For instance, Coachella gives every headliner their own design package, changing everything out every night. While others like Insomniac spotlight on the design aesthetic, rather than the artists.
“One of the best parts about my job is we get to play with all the new toys, entertain people, and create new experiences,” Lieberman explained. “Lighting isn’t just about being artsy. It’s the balance of budgets, production details, timeline, personnel, and creativity.”
Lieberman isn’t so much a proponent of new concert technology, but he has taken the attitude of one who thinks that sometimes the best kind of innovation comes from simply using existing tech in new ways. “It’s not the new tech that’s exciting; it’s the application and execution of old tech that’s exciting,” he added. “What gets me excited is somebody taking tech that’s available and using it in a new and innovative way.”
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