If you’ve been to an arena concert — let’s say for someone like Jay-Z or Lady Gaga — within the past couple of years, or maybe just watched the MTV Music Video Awards, it’s likely that you’ve seen Patrick Dierson’s work. He’s one of the music industry’s highest profile names in the lighting industry, and as a director and/or designer, he’s created elaborate productions for everything from Kanye to U2.
We had a chance to speak to Dierson after he returned from working on Drake’s Club Paradise tour, and we asked him about working with the talent, whether certain venues are better for lighting than others, and if there are certain artists guys in the industry hate working for (there are).
What exactly does a lighting director do?
It’s got many different facets. You start with being the lighting designer, where you’re creating a concept of what the show should look like. And then you’re figuring out where the equipment needs to be, in the air, on the ground, that kind of stuff. And then the architectural drawings where those things should lie around the stage. From there, you progress to the physical build, where you have a crew supporting how that all happens, and from that you move onto the technical rehearsal process, where you’re then creating the light show. In the case of a concert tour, you’re creating all the different lighting cues within each of the songs and getting ready for playback. And then at long last, you come to the actual performance itself, where sometimes the lighting director is running the lighting console, making sure everything’s running correctly, as well as calling all the spot cues. Mixed up into all of that is the sort-of non-technical element of dealing with celebrities in their dressing rooms, in their homes, wherever, going over their desires to create something ethereal on-stage. In many cases, you’re coaching them along, advising them as they’re coming up with these ideas that may sometimes not be to their best interest. Of course you’re always trying to make sure you’re pleasing the client, but you’re also looking out to make sure what is happening is appropriate, which inevitably leads to the coaching to make sure they’re comfortable onstage. You end up being a bit of a psychiatrist.
How often does the talent come to you with an idea, versus you coming up with everything?
I’d say about 99% of the time they have an idea. What they’re creating has an image to it, and they’ve got an emotion, something thematic that they’re trying to put on that stage. They don’t know how to do that because it’s technicians who make all that stuff happen, and it’s your job to do that. More often than not, you’re the one that is assisting them to bring that idea to life. As the music industry has progressed, artists have gotten much more savvy and understand the elements that help convey the story they’re trying to tell on-stage.
In the case of someone on the level of a Drake or Jay-Z, someone who’s playing these massive arenas, how long is the process from when the idea comes to fruition to the first date of the tour?
Oh my God. *Laughs* It’s so wildly different. In an ideal situation, you’ve got a couple of months to prepare. It really depends on the scale of the project. You’ve got these artists who are gearing up for a major concert tour, and they’re putting tickets on sale sometimes months in advance. There’s no real surprise, you know they’re going to go on tour. Whether or not the concepts that you’ve done have been accepted by the artists and their management, you know that something is going to happen. So you start preparing for the scenarios that will inevitably happen, you start preparing for the vendors to be ready, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing yet. On top of that, you also have artists occasionally doing a one-off show, like festival performances or award show appearances. In those instances, things run a lot quicker. Getting the approval to move forward with things to figure out how much money needs to be allocated to that performance tends to not be in the pipeline until very close to that project. On a concert tour, you may luck out and have two months beforehand, whereas on a one-off festival, you may not know until the week before it.
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