How Do I Program My Band’s Lighting To Music?

If you want to create great lighting for your band (or really church, DJ set or anything with music!) , you’ve found that it can be difficult to get started.

You’ve probably been frustrated by technology, or maybe you gave up because it’s all over your head.

Wouldn’t it be great, if it were simple and easy to program your band’s lighting to music? 

If you simply want to throw your lights into sound-active mode and watch them strobe erratically, you’re in the wrong place.  However, if you want to learn how to do it right, I will walk you through exactly how you can program your band’s lighting to music.

In fact, it doesn’t even have to take a ton of time upfront – you can begin with the basics and get more detailed later.

Programming Your Band’s Lighting to Music

The first step to figuring out your band’s light show is to decide how your lighting will be triggered.

If you want a great lighting show, you either need to

a) Pay someone to run the lights.

b) Trigger the lighting scenes from stage

c) Use a click or backing tracks to automate your lighting.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume you can’t pay someone to run the lights.  

Many bands find themselves in this position because let’s face it – there’s only so much money to go around, and adding another person makes everybody else’s check smaller.

I’m not saying there aren’t times that you need to add someone to be dedicated to running lights.  But for a lot of bands, it just isn’t practical for the size or shows you play!


That leaves us the latter 2 options.

The good news is that triggering your lighting cues from on stage is actually quite simple, and can give you a pretty awesome show.

Are you going to have the most complex show ever?

No, you’re not!

But, you can easily have 4-6 scenes per song that you step through on your pedalboard.  That’s a whole lot more interesting then sound-active mode!

How do you accomplish this?  Simple – you need ENTTEC DMXIS.

ENTTEC DMXIS is a piece of software that allows you to quickly and easily create lighting to match your music and then play it back via a 1/4″ foot pedal or MIDI.

Automating Your Lighting Inside of DMXIS

If you are ready to really make a killer lighting show, it’s time to automate.  And the good news is, you can do it with DMXIS as well!

In order to sync your lighting perfectly to your music, you are going to have to either play off of a click or backing track.

Hopefully, you are running your tracks out of a program like Ableton Live, which allows you to use VST plugins (which DMXis can be!).

Next, you need a lighting console that can talk with Abelton.  This will either take place via VST plugin, or via MIDI control.

Watch the video below for the How-To make it all work:

One of the things I love about DMXIS is that once your song is programmed, you never have to touch it again.  You can re-order your set list every show inside of Abelton, of just run it all off the fly!  Whatever you do, DMXIS will follow the lead set by Abelton.

If you’re just getting started and don’t have a solution for running your tracks,  I recommend using Showbuddy.  Showbuddy is a simple backing track program built by the developers of DMXIS…so naturally, they work perfect together.

Taking it to the Next Level

However, DMXIS isn’t the golden answer to every lighting need.  If you’ve got a bigger show, or already have a console, then we need to do some MIDI madness to make it all work together.

Basically, we need to get the MIDI notes which are put out by Abelton to translate into something that the lighting console is listening for.

Now, every console is a little different in how it handles MIDI, but I’ve found this video to be a really great guide to get started:

Once you’ve got your tools in place, it’s time to get to the lighting!

Getting Started: Programming Your Lighting

When I’m programming a band’s lighting show, I like to build all of my songs in layers.

Meaning, I begin with sketching out the basic looks that I’m going to use in my console, and then I come back through and fill in the details.

This method is really great if you’re new to lighting, or don’t have a ton of time upfront to invest in your lighting show.  Here’s how it works:

I begin by building lighting cues for each song – 1 for verses, 1 for choruses and 1 for the bridge.

If a song has any other particularly contrasting sections like a 2nd chorus or oddball verse, I’ll program a cue for those too.

Once you’ve built this for your first song, you can move on and before you know it, you’ve got all of your songs programmed with the basics.  Take a breather!

Again, this is just a general template – don’t feel like you need to program many cues for a ballad that may just need 1 static lighting look for the whole song.  (This will make your fast songs look even better)

The goal of working like this is to make it so that every song you have has at least a few lighting cues, and no songs look out of place.

When you’re ready to program more, you can add in more cues and effects as your time allows.

If you’re programming little bits here and there over time, remember to work on songs that fit into different places of your show, and to not let any songs get left out.

While it’s cool to have songs fully programmed in time to your music, it’s a buzzkill when you have a song that needs lighting but doesn’t have it yet!

Learn Stage Lighting Labs Member Extras:

Inside of Learn Stage Lighting Labs, we’ve got action plans that teach you everything you need to know to master band lighting.

Learn the basics and create a great, simple band lighting show on a budget! You’ll learn literally everything you need to know, even if you’ve never used lighting before.

The Lighting Basics Blueprint: Learn the basics and create a great, simple band lighting show on a budget! You’ll learn literally everything you need to know, even if you’ve never used lighting before.

From Zero to Lighting Hero: Ready to kick it up a notch? This action plans picks up where “The Lighting Basics Blueprint” stops and shows you how to create a bigger and more in-depth show so that you can “wow” any size audience!

Not a Labs Member yet? Click Here to Learn More about Learn Stage Lighting Labs!

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