Avoid Cheap Fog Machines: Building A Better Stage Show

Erica O'Brien

If Rocks Off could talk to ourselves from six years ago, the advice we would give that young aspiring rock star would be to not bother with any gigs for the first year playing with the band, and instead have everyone save up as much money as possible to fund a truly magnificent stage show and PR campaign once we were really able to do so.

Playing gigs can be a little disheartening some times. You spend $100 here and there on flyers, banners, etc., because you can't get together $1,000 for a more impressive approach. You hope to make a profit at a concert, but too often you're stuck with a poor payout and a bar tab to boot. You realize that between the expense of going out (gas, food, alcohol, parking) you would have done the band better to just show up at practice and put $20 in a jar.

However, what would we do even if we had the ability to reset? We've never had that kind of money to play with, so we don't really know. We decided to seek an answer.

Provision's Jen Kiser
Provision's Jen Kiser

One of the acts we've always been very impressed with as far as their stage show goes is Provision. Breye 7x and company pride themselves on being a completely self-contained act. They maintain their own sound system, their own fog machines, their own lights, the works. As such, no matter what venue books them you can count on the full show.

"Fog is essential," said Breye. "Even if you just have a fog machine, most clubs and venues have lights; and fog is great for creating the atmosphere for a performance. I buy scented fog, as I find that the crowd enjoys it more than regular unscented Fog that offends some people. We used to use musk until it was discontinued. Now we use vanilla.

"Don't ever buy a cheap fog machine," he continues. "Anything from 50 to even 1,200 watts will not last and will be junk in just a few months to a year. Believe me, I know because I learned the hard way. Do not go cheap. Spend the money and buy something 1,500 watts and up. You need a real workhorse for shows."

For $2,000, Breye suggested the following shopping list for a band:

1,500 to 1,800-watt Fog machine: $300

250 Watt Intelligent Scanners (8 Colors and 8 Gobos) Either American DJ, Martin, Novascan, or Chauvet. (x4): $1,000

Chauvet Techno Strobe or Color Palette DMX LED Panel (x4): $500

DMX Cables, Extension Cables, and Power Strips: $200


Linus Pauling Quartet
Linus Pauling Quartet
Photo by Flip Osman

Ramon Medina of Linus Pauling Quartet suggested a different route to take with your money. His passion is for projected image.

Medina formerly worked with Lori Surfer, who used to produce things for the Butthole Surfers, on stage projections utilizing 16mm projectors. Projectors generally go for $50 on eBay, though the shipping costs can double your investment. In a city the size of Houston there's generally no shortage of them on Craigslist.

Acquiring films to use as backdrops was once as simple as a trip to the Houston Public Library's downtown. However, flooding in the basement destroyed most of the library's stock.

"We went to eBay and started purchasing films there," says Medina. "They ran anywhere from $35 to $50, and that included random allotments of school films. The problem came that a year after we started buying films, the market shot up and we were priced out. So our ability to run different films was hampered there, but I'm sure if you scour you can still find deals."

Consortium of Genius
Consortium of Genius

Even someone like Lewis D'Aubin of the Consortium of Genius, who produces a full on Alice Cooper-esque stage extravaganza recommends spending your money on a projector and screen, although he cautions the best use of a band's money might be in the hands of a good promoter.

Still, for a bit of stage flash projection is a modest and wise investment.

"With synced visuals, a stage show can really go to another level," D'Aubin says. "Without a tight sync between the performance and the visuals, it can at very least mean a break from having to watch a humdrum musical performance if the movie is decent."

Music remains an expensive endeavor. All these suggestions are already counting on you having all your basic equipment, a rehearsal space, and some method of promotion in place. However, we've always found that having a dedicated goal to work towards makes it easier to save up the cash to achieve that goal.

We hope that some of the input we've gathered from top performers can serve as a road map to local acts who want to take their work onstage to the next level.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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