If you don’t want to be in the spotlight, get off the stage

By David A. Barber
Author of Gigging, Everything You Need to Know About Playing Gigs (Except How to Play Your Axe)

“If you don’t want to be in the spotlight, get off the stage.” This quote comes from my friend Skinny who runs a lighting, staging, and sound company (www.sssproductions.net).  As a stage lighting professional he is sick of musicians asking him to turn the lights down or not point them at the band members.  There’s a reason you’re on a stage.  You could be playing behind a curtain or just having a recording of your band playing over the PA system.  People want to see you and watch you play your instrument.  They want to make a personal connection with you and they do that by making eye contact.  If they can’t see you, it’ll be that much harder for you to connect with the audience and build up some excitement during your show.  This also goes for wearing sunglasses and hats on stage.  Don’t do it.  The stage and the lights shining on it aren’t meant to be super comfortable for you, they’re meant to make you look good from the audience’s perspective.  If you subvert that by asking for dimmer lights or wearing dark glasses, nobody will be able to make eye contact with you.

Here’s the best hint we can give you: Don’t look directly into the lights.  Look down where the crowd should be.  You may not be able to see them, and they may not be there, but get used to it.

Stage lights have traditionally been hot and bright and in your face, and that’s likely to continue, although, with the increasing use of LED stage lights the heat has been dramatically reduced.  If you’re hot and sweaty under LEDs, it’s your own heat.  Don’t blame the lights.

In some situations, there may not be any lights on you at all.  This will happen most often in small dive bars or restaurants that only have music on the weekends.  If that’s the case, you might want to bring your own lights.  Whenever possible, use professional stage lights. Do NOT bring in shop lights, utility lights or any other light you can buy in a hardware store.  The reasons for this are simple: Safety and Looks.  You don’t want to be the band that used the wrong kind of lights or overloaded a circuit causing a fire that burned the venue down.  Most Full-service music stores will have at least a small selection of stage lighting, and the internet is full of places to buy gear.  You don’t need to spend a fortune buying a massive lighting rig.  Renting is always an option, as well. However, a professional lighting tech will almost always make you look better.  For the smaller gigs, one rack of three or four spotlights on a tall stand will do the job. Furthermore, running a pile of orange or yellow extension cables across the stage to each of your shop lights just looks bad.  It makes you look like an amateur, because, well… if you’re doing that, you are.


One of our many pet peeves is being in the audience at a show and having to turn my head away from looking at the band, or taking pictures of them, because the lights are shining in my face, instead of on the band.  If you have any control over the lights, please make sure they are pointed at the band, not the audience.  Sure it’s cool in a stadium when they shine the lights out on the crowd for a bit, but in a club, it’s really easy to overdo it.  Additionally, bartenders get really cranky when they can’t see to mix drinks or count their tips because someone shined a spotlight in their face.

Another pet peeve is fog/smoke machines.  It has always been our opinion that any local band requiring a smoke machine is hiding something.  Now, that said, we realize that you can make things look really cool with a little bit of fog and some cool lights, but when you’re playing a neighborhood pub, leave that stuff at home. A theater-sized venue or bigger can handle the smoke and will probably already have some cool lights, or will be open to working with the ones you bring.  But please, go easy on the fog.  Some people with asthma freak out at the mere sight of fog and once again, you don’t want to make life any harder than it already is for the waitstaff, bar staff or security.  Keep the fog on the stage, where it belongs, and you should be fine.