Programming is not glamorous and still an extremely important part of a successful stage design implementation. This is where you program the software to tell the lights, video, SFX what to do. Programming is preparing for two things that happen in concerts, preprogrammed events and improvised events. I have created a system that incorporates both of these so that it is flexible enough for live embellishments and still allows for the complexity of preprogrammed events. The more time and money allocated to programming the more detailed the process can be and the more consistent the show gets. In the case of this client I would ask for something like the 25-50 most played songs and start cueing out each song and then add more and more detail. Once we have a few songs I could make a 3D video to again get feedback on the direction from the client. Once we add video content for each song we can decide where we like SFX and laser cues to go. One of the benefits of great programming is it takes away the necessity for a Grade A operator for every show as the programming does most of the heavy lifting. My estimate is that 20 songs including video take approximately a month to program. This would be a song per day, Monday through Friday, for a month. Generally some kind of preproduction is arranged either with the vendor or at rehearsals to make sure the programming is good and that all the pieces of the production fit together properly as designed in 3D.
$7500 / 20 Songs
1 Month / 20 Songs
If time and budget permits the next big step in this process is timecoding. Timecode is a signal that generally comes from the stage and usually is sync’d to a backing track and is delivered to FOH via the audio system. At FOH we send the timecode signal into the lighting console and it tells us where in time the playback head is situated. In this way we can program the specific time of each event and therefor make it “Perfect” every time with no room for operator mistakes. This “Perfect” timing is what most large scale pop shows are based on and with its obvious upside it comes with perhaps some less obvious downsides. Primarily the downside is a loss of improvisational energy to the concert along with considerable complexity and increased costs for programming and usually an additional staff member called a “Playback Specialist” who specializes in this type of technology. Many artists choose to use timecode sparingly for specific times in the show, say a specific thematic intro or the big hit song in the setlist. The big part about timecode is it forces the artist to finalize the parts of the show they want timecoded far in advance of tour and this may not always be possible. If it takes a day to program 1 song then it takes a week to timecode that same song so prep time is a considerable part of this analysis.
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