Inspired by the United Nations’ International Year of Light, Lightswitch is exploring Why Light Matters throughout 2015.

We have asked our designers why light matters to them and will be sharing their responses in a short Q&A each month. Each Q&A will focus on a different way light shapes our lives—from buildings we live in to the emotions it evokes. We hope our stories will inspire you to think about why light matters to you, and we invite you to join the dialogue on Facebook: What was the best lit music performance you’ve ever seen?

Twenty-two years ago, John Featherstone and Norm Schwab — the lighting designers and directors behind shows for Van Halen, Janet Jackson, Steve Miller and The B-52s — joined forces to form Lightswitch. You might say our roots are on the road. Though we still keep our touring skills sharp with acts like Imagine Dragons, John Legend, Lionel Richie and Kid Rock, these days we are just as likely to be lighting musical acts for corporate events and meetings. We interviewed two Lightswitch road-warriors-turned-corporate-lighting-pros, programmer Dennis “DC” Connors and designer/electrician Jeff Johnson, about light and music.

Q: How did you get into music?
DC: Forced piano lessons. I’m joking. I did take piano lessons and eventually moved on to play baritone tuba and flugelhorn in the high school marching band. There was also always music playing at home. My father had a great love of music. Even now, you’ll get into his car and you'll hear everything from Wagner to the Stones to the Foo Fighters—and he’s in his 70s! Because of that, I listened to everything from Miles Davis to the Grateful Dead growing up. That diversity helped me when I went on tour because it allowed me to appreciate all different kinds of music.

Jeff: I've always loved music. I played trumpet as a kid, and that was what I was going to do as a career, be a symphony musician. In high school, I played in all the school bands and was in regular bands, as well. We were into Chicago, the Commodores, and Earth Wind & Fire, whom I later got to do a few shows with as a lighting professional.

Being a musician helped me in my career in a lot of ways. If there’s not a lot of time, I’ll ask for the score and be able to read the music, follow along with it and understand it. I’ve been able to sit down with musicians I work with and speak in their language.

Q: What the first live show you saw?
DC: Rush’s 2112 tour. This was pre-MTV, so you really didn't have a sense of what a show was unless you’d been to one. When the stage lights come up, I went ‘Holy crap.’ It was the first time I had experienced this immersive environment, this visual spectacle that was all dedicated to the music. It left an imprint.

Q: Why is lighting important for a show? What does it offer the audience that just the music alone wouldn't?
Jeff: I think there are two schools of thought. One is the musicians that come in and say it’s all about the music, we don’t care about the lighting. Then there are the others that are really into how things look. It’s interesting to me that the bands that do well are the ones that pay attention to the mood they are trying to convey. As a whole, lighting only enhances the show. It makes it bigger than just the guys up on stage standing there.

DC: It’s environmental. Music is very unifying. When you go to a show, you are there with a bunch of people with the same point of view that you have. Whether you’re in the audience or working for the band, it doesn’t matter. You’re part of that same ball of energy that happens just for that one time in that one place. One of my favorite cues is the first cue of a rock show because it’s the culmination of all that energy and anticipation that builds up into one moment that you all experience together.

Q: How did you start lighting music?
DC: I was going to cooking school in Chicago when I ran into a friend who does lighting. He was setting up the lights for a band at a local bar and asked me to join him. I got $20 and as many Buds as I could drink, so of course I did. Who wouldn’t love the chance to have fun and listen music at work? Once I realized that I could that as a career, I left cooking school and went to work for a theatrical lighting company. I’ve been working with Lightswitch for 20 years as a programmer.

Jeff: I started for a lighting company in San Diego. Then over time I became the house lighting designer at a local concert venue. Eventually I got to design major tours for Huey Lewis and the News, Merle Haggard and Kenny Loggins. In 2001, I met Lightswitch principal John Featherstone and have worked with him since.

Q: What has been the most memorable show you’ve been part of?
DC: There are quite a few. One of the ones that really sticks out is a project that John and I did with Jeff and Lacey [Taylor]. We were lighting Elton John on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum where the famous Rocky scene was filmed. It was outdoors on July 4th. The band was doing a sound check without Elton and they played Philadelphia Freedom and a crowd gathered and sang the entire song. They knew every word.

Also, I did New Year’s Eve show in Sydney with Beastie Boys in this huge field with about half a million people in the audience. There were no house lights and when the band came out and dropped the first note and the stage lights came on, the place exploded. To see that many people all on the same wavelength was crazy.

Q: How has your career evolved since then?
Jeff: I’m on the road 280 days a year, but I don’t do tours anymore. The bus kills me! I work on John’s team as a master electrician and associate designer and I have a slew of my own clients that I do design work for. I focus on mostly corporate stuff, including many events that include musical components.

Q: What’s the difference between lighting music for a tour and a corporate event?
Jeff: With a touring show once you are up and running, the rig stays the same. On a corporate show, every week something is different. It’s show specific. The tour is all about getting in, doing the show and getting the gear back in the truck, while corporate shows are about getting across the client’s message in different venues. You could be working in a convention center or ballroom, neither of which is built as a music venue. Also, time. The band is often coming in the day before, so you don’t get four or five days to program the show.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
DC: The constant battle between budget and art. You can’t lose sight of the fact that your primary job is to make the client happy. That metric changes for every client. Some clients are very into the artistic side and others are more concerned that you quit right at 5 o’clock. While we have a tendency to strive for the odd and different, but we always want our clients to be happy.

Jeff: Striking a happy medium between the lighting for the corporate side and for the entertainment, which is a whole different animal. It’s often a budget balancing act. You have to design the rig for the corporate event, but you’re trying hard to incorporate the band’s stuff in the rig, as well. You need to be mindful about where you spend your money.

Q: What is your favorite part?
DC: Working with the Lightswitch team who are also my friends and like family. We work to live, not live to work. I consider myself the luckiest guy ever.

Jeff: For me, it’s all about having a good time. When I chose my career it was important to me to have fun. I want to laugh. In the end, I want to collect my paycheck, of course, but if you have to do something you better enjoy it.

Why Light Matters to Jeff
Light is an amazing thing to me. In its most basic form, it is life: Without it we simply would not live. But in its more complex form, it is beauty. Some of the most amazing things I have ever seen have happened because of light. A beautiful sunset, a rainbow, a great looking show, or even someone’s Christmas display are all a byproduct of light, and to me, this is why light matters.

Why Light Matters to Dennis
Light is the essence of life. It is one of our most basic needs, and at the same time one of the most taken for granted. It is the representation of happiness, love and joy. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to bring those feelings and emotions to the people and things we illuminate.