How to Automate Lighting With Backing Tracks (Pt. 2) – Using Timecode

Timecode allows us to automate our lighting in a way that we only have to do setup on the lighting console side – no complex triggers in our DAW or playback software. Here’s how it works, and how to get started!


Timecode allows you to play an audio or video file and as you are playing it, it is generating time. So what exactly does this mean and what is the purpose?

There a couple different formats of Timecode.


When deciding on what format to use there are a couple different options. You just have to decide what will work best for you and your show.

Linear Timecode

The most popular format of Timecode is SMPTE, which stands for Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers. We generally categorize this as “linear timecode”. This means that is works over analog audio to trigger Timecode.

The benefit to this particular format is that it is analog audio so it can be sent over incredibly long distances with ease and the devices don’t have to be linked together. If you are putting on a big show linear timecode makes a lot of sense.

One thing to consider that could be a potential downside to this is that you have to make sure you get the audio level correct and you have to make sure that you have the proper interfaces on both ends that can correctly clock it.

Midi Timecode

Another format to think about it Midi Timecode. This timecode can be sent through Midi over networks. Generally, if you are working from a PC or running a smaller show, this may be the best option to go with.

Benefits of Timecode

The benefits of timecode is that it is down to the frame time wise. This means that your lighting triggers will be right on as planned. You get to make sure that everything is triggered exactly and get to build one cue list through ONYX to use.

Using Timecode with ONYX

If you are getting set up to use Timecode through ONYX the best advice is to think in complete songs. This means that when you are going to build your cues you would go ahead and build a number of cues for your one song and then proceed to building the next cue list for the next song.

Once your cues are set and you are ready to use them for your show, one thing to remember is that your first cue for Timecode needs to be manually triggered. This will essentially activate the cue list for the rest of your show as long as the TC follow button is engaged.

At the end of the song you make another cue, whether it be blank or not, where you end the song. There you will go in and add a macro to go to the next song. This will give you seamless transition from one song to the next.


When we are working with Timecode, especially in ONYX it is important to make sure that you are firing the lists that have the Timecode in them rather than the ones that don’t. If you put in the little bit of effort to set this up well you should have everything running quite beautifully during your show with very little issue or effort.

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