GLP president talks business, market trends, and why creatives are upping the ante

German Lighting Products (GLP) president Mark Ravenhill joins Headliner for a chat about some of the key trends shaping the professional lighting market, pushing the boundaries in event production, and why 2022 has been one of the company’s busiest years on record…

From studio sets to the live stage, the past 12 months have seen GLP systems deployed in a typically vast and varied array of settings. Artist such as George Ezra, IDLES, Scorpions, and Ed Sheeran have all benefitted from the company’s innovations this year, while its products have also helped to revamp TV productions such as the German version of I Can See Your Voice.

Yet while there has been plenty to be excited about, the industry-wide challenge of supply chain delay has continued to frustrate the marketplace.

Headliner caught up with Ravenhill to reflect on an “adrenaline-packed” 2022, the future of the industry, and the ever-evolving nature of the business…

Thanks very much for joining us, Mark. Where are you reaching us from?

I’m joining you from Nashville Tennessee, my new home, after moving here from California. I’m getting used to the new weather, enjoying the leaves on the trees changing colour, which is something that you didn’t get in California!

Tell us about your entry to this industry and how you arrived at where you are at today?

It’s been a long and winding road. Like so many people, it never quite worked out as you always plan, but you take it all in your stride. My journey started way back in high school in the UK where I grew up. A leaflet went round looking for help on a production of Grease, which a local amateur dramatic society was putting on, and it started from there. They needed some people to help out backstage, and one thing lead to another and a college course came along, then I joined my first theatre in the town of Winchester. I then hooked up with a company called Martin Professional, who are an automated lighting manufacturer based out of Denmark and I worked with them for a number of years developing various product ranges, and then I went on to GLP, where I came out to America starting the GLP office over here in 2009. And have been growing it since then. There are lots of mini stories along the way, but that’s the concise version. I’ve never done anything else.

With live shows back to their fullest since the pandemic this year, have you noticed any significant long-term changes to the way the industry operates?

It’s been a really interesting period. We’ve all had to adapt in our own way. There have been lots of short-term adjustments that needed to be made but there have also been long-term adjustments from a manufacturing point of view. The whole supply chain is a much spoken about issue and continues to be an issue. We are still finding components with a 52-week lead time, so we are having to adapt the design of our products. That brings its own challenges.

For a while there was longer notice periods. We were talking to people about their shows and events with greater knowledge of when things were going to happen, and that was a healthy thing that needed to happen anyway. It felt like before Covid, too many decisions were being made too late in the day and it was putting unnecessary pressure on the whole system. It really didn’t need to be like that because tickets had already been on sale for nine months. Post-covid a lot of people have realised you can’t just do that, because gear and people may not be available.

There does, however, seem to be a trend that things are reverting to shorter notice again, which is a little bit frustrating. As far as I’m concerned, the more knowledge everybody has, the better equipped we can all be to deliver the best events and shows possible.

How has it been seeing shows return in such a big way, and how busy has that made 2022 for you?

It’s been incredibly busy, for which we are extremely grateful to everybody who works with us. It’s a bit like the typical swan scenario, where everything looks nice and serene on top, but you’re paddling like mad underneath to try and make a product on time and deliver it on time, with things like air and sea freight being a challenge. It’s been exciting, non-stop, a bit stressful, but with the stress comes the excitement. It’s certainly been adrenaline-packed, and we are so grateful we are getting back to those pre-Covid levels. It’s a big team effort, from our design teams to our sales team. It really takes all of the cogs to work together.

The more knowledge we all have, the better equipped we are to deliver great events. Mark Ravenhill, president, GLP

Have you observed any trends regarding the type of productions artists are demanding?

We saw a massive shift early in the pandemic in regard to studio-based work, be it music videos or television items, with the whole virtual reality or augmented reality facilities being built. Those things, as well as having a huge video element, also require a specific lighting. So having the right quality of light has always been an important factor when it comes to those projects; having something that renders colour quality and not just a person’s face and skin tone, but also what they are wearing. That’s been a big thing.

In the live environment, we are seeing performers and artists wanting to include their audience more and more, with things like wristbands that can be controlled and lit up. I know there is some new technology coming along that will be able to do that with people’s cell phones, so there won’t be the environmental issue of what do we do with all these wristbands after the show. That technology will be tapped into with things like big colour waves.

Tell us about Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics tour. How did you go about putting that production together? It was described by Ed’s production manager as his “most expansive set design to date”.

From the beginning, everything was designed for a stadium-sized show. And he plays an in the round style, so he’s right in the middle of the field of play at every stadium and the audience are all around him. And the design team, headed by Mark Cunniffe, worked with him closely. Mark has been with Ed for a number of years, so they have a great partnership. They designed this system with a circular stage that has different sections, with one of them continually spinning. Then, placed around that, are stations with all of his equipment dotted around the stage, and they are all linked together, so he can effectively pick up on any one of these sections and move all over the stage. And building out from that are these massive pylons which include guitar pick-shaped video screens, so however far away you are from the stage you have this great view. It’s a phenomenal show, brilliant design, very colourful, and the set is a big centrepiece.

And it all comes down to the fact it’s just one guy onstage, and it works extremely well. We were very happy to be a part of it. We were asked early on in the process to design a specific fixture that didn’t exist before and it was customised specially for this tour. We’re always happy to take on special projects and this was a great one.

Are you seeing more of that kind of upping of the ante from stadium-sized artists now? Is there a push to make set designs as spectacular as possible?

Yes. Every department of that creative team is trying it push the boundaries more. We’ve seen on a number of shows this year with artists stepping up and doing something different. The Weeknd was a good example. He went out with a system designed by Jason Berry, performing here in the States at baseball stadiums with a catwalk going right out into the audience, lit all the way along. The way he used it as an element of the show and the way he was lit on it was just great. It was really spectacular.

Also, one that not every artist can do, is what P!nk does. She’s an acrobatic artist and she straps herself into a wire system that flies her around the venue and gets her close to the audience in such a different way. She has to be lit while she’s doing that, so there is that collaboration between the different elements. So yes, we are definitely seeing artists trying to do more and more with their shows.

What are the biggest challenges in the market you face going forward?

The supply chain remains a major challenge. You have to do your best, but the one thing I learned during Covid is that you can’t get too stressed about the things that are out of your control. You just have to make sure you have contingencies, so we try to do that all of the time. The other thing that we saw, and this really got pushed forwards by Covid, is that a lot of shows have gone outdoors. It was the first place we could gather large people again. So having equipment that can live up to being outdoors is something we get more requests for now.

On the flipside, the exciting thing is that for a while we thought that this level of shows can’t continue, but I think now that it can. There are a lot of artists who want to get out there and perform, and a lot who haven’t gone out on tour yet. At some point we will get back into a cycle of artist going back into the studio to make new music, but there are still a lot who haven’t gone out to do some big tours yet since the pandemic. I think it’s going to be exciting to see all of that happening and the creativity that is going to come out of that as well. And we will want to be there to respond to that and be a part of it.