Programming: How to Set Up Your Cues for Success!

Whether you’ve got a simple console or something complex, learning how to lay out your lighting looks into something useful inside of your console can be difficult.

Even the more basic PC and hardware-based consoles available today have a myriad of different ways which they can be set up.

And while there are no set “right” ways to set up your console in every circumstance, over the years I have found some of the best ways to program different types of events by experimenting, peering over the shoulders of other lighting designers and reading articles and books from some of the best in the lighting industry.

Step 1: The End Goal

Ultimately, at the end of the day, the way that you set up your console is dependant on 2 main things:

  1. What you need to see change on stage at a given moment and
  2. Making your life easy as the lighting person.

In the rest of this article, I’m going to be sharing with you some of the ways that I lay out different types of shows, no matter what type of console I’m on.  For that reason, this article isn’t necessarily based on any one console, so some of the things I write about may not apply to you. (But most things will!)

Read over the headlines and check out the details that most apply to the types of shows or services you most work within!

Step 2: Types of Shows and How I Program Them:

Church Services

Church services can have very basic lighting, very complex lighting, or anything in-between!

For the most basic of church services, I make just a few lighting cues to change the lighting for different parts of the service – for example:

  • Walk in/out
  • Music
  • Preaching

Moving up from there, there are a few different ways that I like to structure programming a church service so that it’s both easy for the tech director from week to week and easy for the volunteers who run it.

The Songs Method

We begin the songs method by first programming out some basic scenes for walk in and out, and any other segments of the service that aren’t songs.  I usually keep these in a single cuelist, but you can also create each one on a playback button, depending on what your console has available.

Then, I go ahead and create cuelists for every song that the church does.  Chances are, you’ll repeat songs that you play often, and so week-to-week, you’ll create cuelists for 1-2 songs (or none), and simply re-order the cuelists you have already programmed for the particular week.

The “Colors” Method

In this approach, we begin again by programming basic scenes that define the wash for walk in/out, worship and preaching.  I then go ahead and make a bunch of different color combinations and program them to playback buttons, either on-screen or physical.

Then, week-to-week, you just have to chart out what colors you want on what songs.  This keeps it easy on the tech director but doesn’t allow for as complex lighting as other methods.


Lastly, if you have volunteers or staff who are experienced, you can just run your whole service’s lighting on the fly!  Scroll down to the bottom of this post to learn more about punting.

Learn Stage Lighting Labs Member Extras:

Get the full video how-to’s on each of these methods inside of “The Foundations of Church Lighting”, then check out the accompanying action plans on how to set these up in Onyx and DMXIS

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

DJ Sets or EDM Music

Even though a DJ set for a prom or wedding seems very different from an EDM show, the programming layout is very similar between the 2.

Whenever I’m programming for this type of show, I like to first go ahead and lay out some “blanket scenes” that offer basic colors, gobos, and positions for moving lights.

If I have the ability to program faders on my console, I go ahead and program out individual faders for each type of light that I have, to control the intensity.

For some of you, this may be all you need in a console setup – you can make a great show with just these basic elements.  However, if you want to go deeper and have more control, scroll down to Punting, where I describe how I set up my consoles to work live and on the fly!

Live Music or Worship Where I Know The Band’s Music

If I know the music that a band is going to be performing, and I’m programming for more than 1 show, I’ll go ahead and lay out each song individually in it’s own cuelist.

Some really important things to remember as you program each song:

  • Start the first cue of each song with a “blocking” cue.  Different consoles all have different names for this, but basically, you’re going to “touch” every parameter of every light in your show and give it a value.  This way, you can be sure that no values are tracking through from other previously-used cuelists, no matter what order the band plays the music in every night!
  • Though you may program the songs in a particular order, the band will likely change up their set over time, particularly the order.  So, don’t get super concerned about making each song progress and different from the one before or after it.  Make each song’s lighting unique, so that the lighting looks fresh, no matter what order the songs are played in!
  • Build in some elements to Punt (see below).  You never know when a band is going to do something new or cover something old – so be ready to keep the audience from guessing that you didn’t have anything programmed!

Live Music or Worship Where I Don’t Know the Music (or Don’t Have Time!)

In this situation, scroll down to Punting.

Theatrical Shows

For a theatrical show, you generally want to build your entire show into one giant cue stack.

Begin with the curtain warmers or another walk-in look, and program out the show in order as you mark the cues in your script!  Don’t forget to program cues for intermissions, and have fun!

If there are any special effects during your show (fog, a chase sequence, etc), you may want to program those in a separate cuelist to manually trigger them.

You’ll want to notate in your main cuelist as well as your script when these are coming up as well!


If you’ve read through all of the categories above, it probably feels like I’ve pointed to this section from every other section!

And I probably have, because running lights on the fly, or punting, is the most versatile way to program and run your show.

When you build a showfile to be punted from, you’re ready for anything that comes your way!  The only advantage a pre-programmed show has is the ability to do significantly more complex changes on the fly, but with modern lighting consoles, you can even do a hybrid approach where you punt at times and use a pre-programmed show at times.

At it’s most basic level, punting means that you lay out your different parameters (intensity, color, gobos, etc) for different types of lights on to buttons and faders.  The more buttons and faders the better!

I go deeper into punting here: How to Run Lights Live to Music! and in this interview with Nook Schoenfeld.

Wrapping Up

By this point in the article, you’ve learned the basics of how to lay out your lighting console for many different types of shows or services.  Now it’s time to take action!

If you’re leaving this post charged up and ready to program, great!  Go to your lighting console or PC software, and program your heart out!

Got a type of show that I haven’t listed here?  Comment below and let me know, and I’ll do my best to include it in this guide.

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