28 Apr Inside the Music Mind of Lighting Designer: Andy Cass
The Music Industry is full of creative people. From the musicians on stage playing music to the artists that make the posters that the promoters use to get people to the music venues. All the different people involved in making the music industry work have skill sets to be celebrated.
When it comes to the art of the Lighting Designer (LD), the skillset of LD Andy Cass are nothing short of extraordinary. Earning a music industry degree from Northeastern University in 2000, Cass has gone on to do light design for Katy Perry, Passion Pit, Dr. Dog, Bassnectar, String Cheese Incident, Glitch Mob, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the popular music festival Hulaween.
Cass launched his career in the music industry when he moved to Denver Colorado after graduating college where he wet his feet in stage and production management. In 2009, Cass dedicated himself solely to lighting design and programming and quickly found himself touring with massive international artists.
As technology has evolved so have Andy’s skillsets as lighting design led to video design, evidenced in his epic work for Bassnectar. Andy’s use of Ableton and ability to perfectly sync light shows with musical performances helping him stand out in the industry. Now Andy finds himself steeped in 3D modeling and Virtual Reality.
We had the opportunity to pick Andy’s mind about his journey as a lighting designer.
MM: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A LIGHTING DESIGNER?
AC: At first it was Kuroda and Phish but that only opened the doors for me to see more. I’m a technical and curious person so going to shows as a fan got me thinking about how it all worked.
MM: WHO WAS THE FIRST MUSICIAN/BAND/EVENT THAT YOU EVER WORKED FOR?
AC: My first real lighting gig was Addison Groove Project. An awesome space funk band out of Boston in the early 2000s. They were a perfect way to start because they had a few technically complex sections I needed to master and some improvisational jamming. I owned a trailer full of gear and we would travel around the east coast, primarily New England, and do shows in all kinds of venues.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE SKILLS OF A GREAT LIGHTING DESIGNER?
AC: The term designer encompasses a lot of stuff but in the jamband context this is generally one person who plans, designs, programs, and operates the show. As shows grow in size these jobs tend to specialize and separate. The skills of a great lighting designer are one that understands and controls the entire process from start to end. Being at the show pressing buttons is the enjoyable part of the process that fans see but the real work comes in the preparation for that moment. The best designers design their own shows, create plots and bid them to vendors, deal with budgets and staffing, understand the technology and program their own vision, and then operate the show live. There are many designers out there that are good at one of these skills but very few who are skilled at all of them.
MM: WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS OF ALL TIME AND WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST OF THEIR WORK FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE BEING INTRODUCED TO THEM?
AC: My influences are always changing but at the moment I’m enamored by Es Devlin. She just did the Adele show at the observatory in LA. She finds a way to take the same technology we all have access to and consistently create something original.
MM: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG LIGHTING ENTHUSIAST THAT WANTS TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL LD?
AC: I find that younger LDs try to do too much with too little. Meaning if you only have a few lights or your artists is in small rooms. You can’t be making every little hit and catching every musical nuance. It might appear that you are convincing the viewer of your operating prowess but what actually comes across is nonstop chaotic changes. Nearly every young LD whos show I watch I walk away thinking that half as many cues would have made for a better viewing experience.
MM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE PEAK EXPERIENCES OF YOUR CAREER?
AC: Some shows are just magic and the night comes together perfectly. The band is churning and the rig is working and haze is sitting and when the show is over it felt like it just started because I was focused the whole time. Those shows don’t always fall on the big date like new years or at the big venue but when they happen they create this memory for me that is indescribable. Some that come to mind are: Billy and the Kids (Red Rocks 2021), Shpongle Live (Red Rocks 2019), The Disco Biscuits (Syracuse 2019), Emancipator (Red Rocks 2017), The String Cheese Incident (New Years 2015).
MM: FOR THE SERIOUS LIGHTING DESIGNERS OF THE WORLD, IS THERE A PRO TIP YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE?
AC: Better paperwork makes for better shows. For me personally I enjoy making plots and those plots represent your work and your professionalism.
MM: WHAT GEAR WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO AN LD THAT IS JUST STARTING OUT?
AC: I suggest all young LDs start using GrandMA software on a home computer with MA3D. All of this software is free and IMHO is the fastest way to get yourself involved in the business. There are many good tutorials and classes for free and a huge amount of groups and forums to learn on for help.