If you’re in the lighting industry and you have the slightest compulsion to design, program, or direct lights in a show, you’re living in what is perhaps the best time ever to be in the industry. Given the wide availability of lighting software and the low cost of computer hardware, there has never been easier access to the tools of the trade. Anyone who can get their hands on a computer and jump on the internet can download a variety of software for free, try it out, learn how to use it, and take an entire show from concept to virtualization without ever leaving the comfort of the home or office. That includes software to lay out a lighting plot, patch it to a virtual console, program it and play it back on a visualizer. Though you may not be able to save your work unless you actually pay for the software, you can still test drive the software, log some time on it, figure out which programs and consoles you like and dislike and even prepare for a real gig.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, has a new book called Outliers: The Story of Success. In it, he argues that anyone who is successful has put in at least 10,000 hours of training into his or her craft. Michael Jordon did it on the court; Michael Phelps did it in the pool. The Beatles did it in Hamburg; Bill Gates did it on the computer. And you can do it on the computer too. The best part is that you can do it for free. It cost Bill Gates’ parents tens of thousands of dollars to send him to a very expensive private school that had access to a computer long before they were easily accessible.
But you can become an expert whether you’re Bill Gates or Billy Bob from Bone Gap, Mo. You don’t need Michael Dell’s money; all you need is Michael Phelps’ desire. And you can start by learning how to program a lighting console or, if you already know how, by getting really good at it. There are a number of freely available off-line editors that emulate the look and operation of the console from which they come. They use the same syntax and perform the same operations, store the same backup files and output the same signals. In some cases all you need to run a show on them is a computer and a USB-to-DMX512 converter. And to connect with a visualizer you don’t even need that. So start logging your 10,000 hours today. To help you figure out which console you want to try out, here’s the PLSN Buyers Guide on off-line editors. The clock is ticking.