Quite a few skills that go way beyond lighting design are needed to make someone a successful house LD. Part psychologist and part tour guide, good house LDs not only need to make visiting designers and bands feel welcomed, they also often have to lend a supportive ear to visitors who recount woeful tales of misadventures on the road. Of course, this is all before they get down to the business of showing their guest LDs around the house rig and working to help it mesh with a tour package.
To recognize the hard work of house LDs, we decided to start a new feature “On The House,” that takes a closeup look at their world. We’ll be running this feature periodically in Lighting Insights, starting off with this issue, which features Kyle Rose, who looks after lights at Burlington, Vermont’s popular Higher Ground Music Hall.
You get a lot of name bands, particularly jam bands stopping at Higher Ground, how many of them come with their own LDs?
“It’s probably about 50-50. Half the bands on our stage have their own designer and half have me do their shows.”
The LDs who’ve visited Higher Ground have some very good things to say about you. So, what advice would you give house LDs on working with these visitors?
“Do everything you can to make their day easier, and try to empathize with them. They may have been out on the road for two or three months by the time they show up at your venue. They may have had very little time or sleep between last night’s gig and set up at your place. Or maybe the stagehands at the previous gig really messed things up and packed things in the wrong case or screwed up their cable looms. SO be patient and empathetic when you listen.
“I always try to put myself in the visiting LD’s shoes, especially if they’re a little grumpy. I want them to succeed when they’re at my club, so I try hard to make things go smoothly. Also, when they’re all patched and built, and everything is ready, I give them space rather than hoover over them.”
At other times you get visiting bands coming in and asking you to run their lightshow. Can you walk us through that process?
“I always start by listening to their music the day before a show, so I can get a feeling for what they’re all about. Sometimes I get specific notes before a show, but most often I just get a rundown from the tour manager or FOH when they show up here, then it’s off to the races!”
How much time do you have to prepare when creating a show for a new band?
“There is never as much time as you’d like, but that’s the nature of this business. I have a decent punt page set up on my console, so I can run a show on the fly with minimal programming.”
Do you change the configuration of lights on your rig for each show?
“Not usually, part of our house advance states that any touring act must be willing to adapt to our house specs. I will make modifications on occasion, but typically we’ll have another show coming in the next day or two, so we don’t have the time to reset the house rig.”
How about renting fixtures? Do you rent fixtures when you want to add to your house rig or make it ready to do something special for a band?
“If an artist is looking for something extra, we will rent more gear. I also have a number of specialized fixtures in my tool chest as an LD, which I gladly provide.”
On the subject of being an LD — you work as one for several bands, so how does that compare to being a house LD in terms of your design process?
“With my bands I get to be more creative and design for them, whereas with the house it’s more a matter of providing a stable and reliable support system. I greatly enjoy doing both. ”
So, how did you become the house LD at Higher Ground?
“I started working as a fill in sound guy on occasion, and one night after the show I asked my friend who was the head of security at the time if they needed any extra help. He put me on security shift for the next day and then hired me part time. The house LD at the time was starting to move into another career. She started asking me to take over some of her shifts, and I worked hard to learn all I could about lighting. I wound up falling in love with lighting and when the house LD left, I stepped in. That was four years ago.”
How has being a house LD met your expectations? Anything surprising about it?
“Being the house LD here has been great. You never stop learning in this job, which is a real plus for any job! We get all different genres of music at this club, so I get to work with a wide range of visiting LDs working for a wide mix of bands. I get to light all kinds of music. The variety and learning make the job rewarding.”
How about with club owners, what’s the secret to getting along with ownership when you’re the house LD?
“Make them happy!”
And what does it take to make them happy?
“When they see a stage that looks good it reflects well on their club. When the visiting bands like how things look, it adds to the club’s stature. Both of those things make owners happy.”
Has Higher Ground given you the freedom to select the fixtures for your house rig?
“When I started here I was just a fill in so I didn’t. After being here awhile though I was able to go to management and convince them to allow me to replace their old par cans with new moving fixtures.”
What are the three most important things you have to keep in mind when putting together a house rig?
“First and foremost is to start by understanding and appreciating the type of music that dominates at your club and allowing this to determine the type of fixtures you select. For example, if your club is primarily DJ you’ll want to be heavy with the beams and effects. On the other hand if it’s a rock club, you’ll go with more washes and spots.
“In the case of a club like Higher Ground that gets a diverse mix of artists, you also want to create a rig that anyone could walk into and use it to make their show work. We have 26 moving fixtures in our rig. All of our washes have color mixing and zoom. We also have eight spots hung upstage and four blinders, so it’s easy for anyone to create a variety of looks.”
Do you try to avoid fixtures that are too specialized, being that a house rig has to be so flexible?
“For me, your house rig should focus on the basics and versatility. The tour will bring in its own flash.”
What is the funniest or most challenging thing that ever happened to you as a house LD?
“I don’t know about funniest, but one of the most rewarding is meeting people. We get a lot of the same touring crews passing through often with a number of different bands. I’ve gotten to be friends with a lot of good LDs as a result.”
Based on your experience, what are the most important things a house LD needs to remember?
“Simple…be friendly, know your house and have fun.”