All In Time - Timecoded Lighting for Umphrey's
Just about every mainstream pop, country, hip hop, or rock show is linked to backing tracks or a click track in some fashion. One of the biggest advantages this provides, from a live production standpoint, is the ability to accurately sync the lighting to the backing track . Complicated cues, that no human could make happen in real time, can be pulled off with serious precision. This approach is called timecode.
Essentially, the computer handling the musical backing tracks (the playback station) sends an additional audio signal, the timecode, to the lighting console, letting it know where in time the song currently is. Once the playback station hits play, the lighting console is prompted to start, and runs on its own for the duration of the song.
Lighting designers who are operating timecoded shows can do the whole thing without touching a button, depending on how detailed the programming is. Given the improv-heavy nature of the Umphrey’s McGee show, and the fact that they don’t play to click tracks, I cannot pull off this style of lighting. Everything I do is in real-time along with the band. I am truly jammin with them.
However, they occasionally start the show by walking on stage to a prerecorded track playing over the PA. Gradually, each member plays over it until the full band is hitting, and Chris Mitchell (UM front of house audio engineer) fades the track out. The intros create really awesome drama and dynamic build. I’ve always been a fan of them. When I learned that UM would be recording an entire album of these intros, an opportunity to program some timecoded lighting arose…
‘Leave Me Las Vegas’ is the first single released from the forthcoming album that has a name so long I don’t feel like typing it out. For most shows, I import our lighting rig into a virtual 3D space that allows me to visualize how everything will look in real life. This is a really helpful tool for creativity, pre-programming for festivals and bigger shows, as well as timecoded shows. Attached below is the programming I did the week leading up to this weekends’ shows in Pontiac. A few of the effects on the K20 B Eyes don’t really work in the visualizer, but it gets the point across.
I thought it went well, all things considered! Thankfully the peeps in the band were open to moving the intro, which usually starts the show, to the beginning of the 2nd set so it’d be dark enough for the lights to be seen…Turns out 9:02 pm in late May in Michigan still isn’t late enough for it to be complete darkness. Bummer. Some of the details didn’t quite come through, but so it goes.
It was a bit surreal to watch the programming execute without having to touch a button. While the side washes pulsing in white with every snare hit turned out real sexy, things got a little messy once the full band was in. Brendan playing the whole-tone riff in 5/4 against the rest of the band playing in 4/4 was the biggest challenge.
LMLV > All in Time > Push the Pig
This was my first time utilizing timecode in a real show, and most certainly the first time it has happened at an Umphrey’s McGee show.
A few little fun facts about this specific intro:
It was played at the 2nd Umphrey’s show I attended as a fan in high school, at the Beacon Theatre in 2013.
I then programmed the opener of that same show, LMLV>40’s Theme, for my audition rendering while applying for the job back in summer 2019. I had a pretty different vision for the song back then.
The lighting rending for the 2021 version of LMLV is now the Spotify canvas for the song… Preeeeeetty cool.
I am looking forward to diving in even deeper with these intros. There’s bound to be some really cool stuff on the way with bigger rigs and indoor venues. Can’t wait to see how they turn out!
Video Captured by TourGigs
Photo by Tara Gracer