How Do I Begin Working With A Professional Lighting Console?

It used to be that there was a divide in the lighting world between professional and consumer – between big shows and small shows.

The big shows had massive, fancy-looking professional lighting consoles that looked kind of like they came off of a spaceship.

DMX lighting console
Did this console come off of a spaceship?

The smaller shows were stuck with cheap DJ-style controllers or random theatrical consoles.

Being able to run a professional, complex show on a budget just wasn’t an option.

Today, the landscape is totally different.  PC-software allows you to have the latest and greatest from all of the biggest professional lighting console brands right at your fingertips for a whole lot less cost than a professional lighting console.

Professional-grade consoles have also gotten easier to program – but they’re still a big leap from more basics controllers.  However, as I often like to say, the second best way to upgrade your lighting is to upgrade your control – giving you the ability to do some really cool things, really quickly and easily!

In this article, I’m going to start by going over some of the theory behind professional lighting consoles and how to work inside of them.

Then, I’m going to share with you some of the common workflows that translate across many different console brands.

Last, we’ll dive into a few other functions you’ll find useful if you’re considering working with a professional console software for the first time.

Theory – How to Wrap Your Head Around The Console

Most professional lighting consoles follow basically the same few steps to go from “no lights” to “save that look”.

You select your lights or groups of lights, apply attributes in the programmer, hit record, and select a recording destination.  Then you are free to clear out your programmer (if you’d like), and play back your recorded cue.

The Programmer

The programmer is probably one of the more confusing parts of the recording process.  Instead of recording everything being output from the console, the console only records those items that have been brought into the programmer.

Here’s how it works:


Without a professional lighting console, building FX means some basic chases or whatever you can do by tapping your fingers on the bump buttons to the beat.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!  In fact, even on big, professional lighting consoles, I still spend a lot of time tapping my finger to the beat!

But, having the ability to work with an effect generator can really help you build some great looking lighting very quickly.  For instance, here are some examples of color effects that you can do:

Basic Building Blocks

To record your first cue, you can simply select some fixtures, give them values, and hit record.  But if you’re going to be doing a lot of programming, it’s a good idea to use the building blocks that the console gives you:


Groups are simply “quick-select” buttons that allow you to easily grab various sets of lights while you program.  Here’s how they work:


Once you’ve selected your lights via a group, it’s time to add attributes.  Whether that’s intensity, focus, color or beam, using presets can save you a TON of time and frustration compared to direct selecting these attributes every time you go to record a cue!

Cues and Cuelists

Once you’ve selected your groups, then used pallets and presets to give them attributes, it’s time to press “record” and make a cue.  Cues are the finished look that you get on stage, which plays back easily by one button press.

For some shows, each cue will be contained on it’s own cuelist.  For other shows, you’ll stack many cues on a single cuelist to be played back in order later.

Some cuelists will be contained on playback faders, others on buttons, and some on virtual playback buttons – that is, buttons which are on your screen.

Other Useful Functions:

While following the information above will get you miles ahead of the average beginner with lighting programming, here are a few more console functions that you may need to know:


Highlight allows you to quickly and easily identify fixtures in your lighting rig, so that you know exactly which fixture you are working with.  Here’s how it works:

Move in Black:

When you want a moving head light to get from one place to another, you’ve got (2) choices.  You can either keep it on, and watch it move, or turn it off and be stealthy!

While it often looks cool to see the light moving from place to place, there are also many occasions where the stealthy move in black (MIB) is a much better option.

Luckily, many consoles will automatically move any moving lights that are turned off to a new position, just before they are needed.  All you need to do is turn the MIB function on!

Wrapping Up

If you’re new to professional lighting consoles, the learning curve can be a little intimidating.  I know because I’ve been there too!  The great news is this: once you grasp these basic concepts above, you’ll be building great lighting on a professional console in no time!

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