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Story Telling: Production Lighting To Match The Arc Of A Song

Lighting design to support the message

By Mike Sessler March 13, 2013

If you know anything about storytelling, you know that stories have an arc. They start off with introductions, the characters and tension builds, conflict grows, we have a climax and finally a resolution. The shape of the arc can be different for each story, but the basic tenants remain.

Songs typically follow an arc. We start with a musical introduction, a verse, a chorus, build to a bridge, sometimes a breakdown, then a big chorus finish followed by a resolution.

Our lighting should follow the arc of the song. Let’s look at a great example of a lighting arc that follows a song arc very well.

The song is Rhythms of Grace from the latest Hillsong United CD, Aftermath. It’s a great song, with a nice arc. The lighting design was done by one of my two top-notch lighting volunteers, Daniel Cullen.

Rather than try to explain what we’re talking about, I’m just going to tell the story through pictures. Let’s take a look at the opening…

The Opening

The song opens with percussion and drums. Everyone else is backlit with either the on-floor SourceFours or with Martin 518s in the truss. We also have about 10 ColorBlast 12s on the floor to uplight the band in color. After a 16-bar intro, we bring in some front light…

The First Verse

As you can see, we have a limited amount of front light coming in to illuminate the worship leader and singers. The feel of the song is still pretty mellow, so the lighting is following suit. Nothing is moving, and we’re just setting the mood. As we build to the first chorus, we add some color…

The First Chorus

At this point, we’ve brought up some more front light, and bring in some colored backlight. We have about 20 Parnells in the truss with color scrollers on, along with another dozen or so Parnells with either red or blue gels on the. This gives us a rich color palate to choose from, and you’ll see more of that shortly. The second verse holds at this look; when we get to the second chorus, the song gets bigger, so the lights follow suit…

The Second Verse

The white fabric that was previously only washed in a deep blue is now brighter and a cool blue-green color. He’s also brought up our blue back light, which adds more color and light upstage. The song is clearly building here, and the lighting is following along. Right after the second chorus, the song breaks down into a piano bridge. We put some scripture up on the screen and gave everyone a moment to breathe and reflect. The lighting sets the mood…

The Bridge

As you can see, the color drops out, and the band vamps for a good 20-30 seconds. This is not a time for animation, color chases or anything else. We are creating a space for people to reflect on what the’ve been singing and consider the implications for their life. The third chorus is a big one, so we light it up when we get there…

The Third Chorus

As the biggest point in the song, it’s also the brightest. Everyone is lit up, there is a ton of color and the sound is huge. This picture doesn’t really do the actual look justice, but you get the idea we were going for. After two trips through the chorus, the song breaks down rapidly, and the light follows…

The Close

This is the coda; the song winds down and comes to a close. This lighting forms the backdrop for a pastor to come up and pray.

If you haven’t heard the song, I recommend you go give it a listen. As you do, consider how you could create this type of an arc with a lighting rig. Obviously, we all have different lighting kits with varying tools in the toolbox. But hopefully, this gives you an idea or two on how to use what you have to support the message of the song.

Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.

About Mike

Mike Sessler
Mike Sessler

Project Lead at CCI Solutions
Mike has been involved with church sound and live production for more than 25 years, and is the author of the Church Tech Arts blog. Based in Nashville, he serves as project lead for CCI Solutions, which provides design-build production solutions for churches and other facilities.


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