How Does Stage Lighting Work?

How does stage lighting work? If you’re new to lighting it’s most likely very overwhelming to understand the lingo when you just want to know the basics of how it works.

In this post, we’re going to keep it very simple on how do you setup and get the light to turn on with a console.

Ultimately, if you’re working with a band, DJ, or a church you want to learn the basics of how lighting works and how DMX works is a very important concept to understand.

What is DMX?

DMX is what we call a broadcast type signal, similar the am/fm radio or television signal. A console, which could be the actual console, software, or an app sends out the DMX information, known as channels, to your lights.

Ultimately, that is how your lights are controlled. There are of course, some pieces in between to help make that happen. You first need to connect the DMX to your console through a DMX cable to the back of your light.

On the back of your light, you’ll have a DMX input and a DMX output. DMX works like what we refer to as a bus topology. It’s like a highway where the signal drives by and it comes in and out of the light as it passes to the next one. Even if the light isn’t on, the DMX signal is still passing through it.

When working with multiple lights, your plugging in the DMX cable to go into the first light, out to the second, and into the next light. This term is referred to as daisy chain.

A key piece for those getting started is that the order you install and set up your lights does not matter. With your console you can go to any light and have them respond in any order you want to.

DMX Channels and Parameters

When you have a DMX cable that has a three or 5 pin XLR, it can carry one universe of data which is 512 channels. A channel is a particular set of information for the different abilities of the light which is known as parameters.

Depending on your light, the parameter could mean the intensity of the light, movement abilities, color, or pretty much anything else a light can do.

Patching Your Lights

We’ve learned that the console sends out DMX channels, so how does it know what to send out?

We begin by patching our lights, which is a basic term of connecting your lights to your console through DMX. We are telling the console what lights we have and what we want to do with the light’s capabilities.

The console patches the light, assigns the DMX address, and connects with that light and it’s attributes. The piece to remember is that your light must be set at the same address and mode that the light is set on with your console.

If the modes and addresses do not match between the light and the console you will not have control of your light, or at least not full and correct control!

DMX at a basic level is very simple, when you do start adding more lights it can get complicated or confusing.

You may hear terms like Art-Net and sACN and I have a post to help explain this as well: What is Art-Net and sACN?

But to its core, it’s simple to understand and tends to be very reliable when set up well. And that’s why we still use it today!

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