How to Get Started With DJ Lighting in No Time

As a DJ, one of the most important factors to having a great show is getting and keeping the attention of your crowd.

Sure, there are always going to be those people who just sulk around in the back of the room, but you and I both know that if you can get the majority of the crowd engaged, you can have a great show!

As a DJ, you create the atmosphere in a totally blank room.  You walk in with your gear and set the mood and tempo of the room with your music – wouldn’t it be great if your lighting could match the same purpose?

The great news is that lighting can set the mood and tempo, and it can match your music at the same time, while not requiring another staff member to manage (that gets expensive!).

Selecting the Right Lighting Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

DMX stage lightingBut on the surface it sure can seem that way!

There are a number of manufacturers out there who create products for the DJ market, and they are always inventing something new and retiring old products.  Staying on top of the trends can be tough.

Staying timeless is possible, and I want to show you how.  First, let’s talk about the different types of fixtures that exist out there and drop everything into a few buckets so it’s easier to understand.

When it comes to DJ lighting, we’re going to see a need for 3 types of lighting:

  1. Effects Lighting
  2. Wash Lighting
  3. Uplighting

Each type of lighting can have it’s own fixtures dedicated to it and/or fixtures that switch back and forth.  Let’s dive in to these 3 types of light as a blueprint to make decisions on what we need to make a great show.

1. Effects Lighting

Ceiling LightingEffects lighting is when we use light to create an atmosphere on the dance floor and throughout the room.  It’s where we get to have the most fun in the world of DJing, but we need to be careful not to overdo it on the slow songs!

Effects lights are pointed everywhere around the room – in the crowd, at the stage and most definitely on the dance floor!

Most of the lights put out by the DJ lighting manufacturers are effects lights, doing some sort of cool chase or another.

These types of lights range from basic chasing lights to full-fledged DMX-controlled moving head fixtures.  Less expensive fixtures may not have DMX control, while more expensive fixtures give you exact control of many different features.

DJ Lighting Haze and LasersThough we’ll get into it more below, it’s really important to buy fixtures with DMX control, because it will unlock the ability to use a console to control them.  This is the secret to having a lighting rig that really matches your show!

Part of what makes effects lighting really shine is the use of atmosphere, like theatrical fog and haze.  These mediums allow you to see the beams of light as they pass through the air, multiplying the effectiveness of each light.

Of course, not all venues will allow fog and haze, so check before you turn it on.  When you are able to use atmosphere or arrange with the venue for an exception, it really cranks up your lighting show to 11!

2. Wash Lighting

Wash lighting is when we use light to cover an area of the stage or some other location.

Whether that means using a few LED fixtures to light the head table at a wedding or the way to the bathroom, or a buffet table, wash lighting helps us to see the locations in the venue that are important to the clients!

Wash lighting can also consist of fixtures that highlight your DJ booth – this is a place where we can really get creative with frosted plexiglass or truss to make a statement!

Typically, we’ll accomplish our wash lighting with some LED pars or panels, but moving lights, lekos, or pretty much anything that throws light can be used as well.

3. Uplighting

If you’ve been in the event space for any amount of time, you’ve surely seen uplights and the impact that they can make on a space when deployed correctly.

Uplights typically consist of LED par and strip type fixtures pointed up at walls, columns, backdrops, and anything else that looks cool.

uplight LEDUplighting can take a lame, boring room and make it extraordinary and custom for your client.

If you haven’t experimented with uplighting already, I urge you to give it a try because it is easiest way to make a couple hundred extra dollars every night you gig.

Uplighting can take you to the next level of clients as a mobile DJ, and it’s really easy and doesn’t cost anything to get started, thanks to companies like DIY Uplighting who will rent you lights anywhere in the US for a very reasonable cost.

If you’re simply doing perimeter uplighting, you can begin with simple, inexpensive LED pars like this one from Chauvet. As you begin to get deeper into uplighting, you can begin to add wireless, battery powered LED fixtures to the mix.

For uplighting, I generally do not run DMX to each light,  but rather run them in stand-alone mode on a static color.  The only time I run DMX to them is if I have a number of uplights around the dance floor – then it’s fun to keep them static during the dinner and let them loose during the dancing!

Buying DJ Lighting?  Grab the 4 Things You NEED to Know Before You Buy ANY DJ Lighting by Clicking Here!

Supporting Your Lighting

For wash lighting and effects lighting, your lights are going to be your best friend if they are up in the air, off the ground, and able to shine wherever you point them.

If you’re just beginning, the best way to get your lighting off of the ground is to buy a system that includes a basic lighting stand, like the Chauvet 4Bar (Wash Lighting) or Chauvet Gigbar (Effects Lighting).

As you gain more lighting, it’s time to step up and invest in a basic tripod truss system.  These systems are lightweight and easy to setup.

Be careful to follow the weight limits imposed by the manufacturer, as their systems can’t hold a ton of fixtures.  A truss arch combines both a great look with the ability to hang more fixtures.

How to Gain Control With DMX

Earlier, I mentioned that it’s super-important to get lights which have DMX control available, so that you can make your show match the music.

It can seem daunting, however, to make it all work, especially if you aren’t super-technical.  Luckily, it’s not too difficult, and if you’re new to DMX, check out the video below for the basics.

All in all, DMX is pretty simple, especially when you’re just getting started.  You basically just hook up all of your fixtures together in a chain using the DMX IN and DMX OUT ports on the fixtures themselves, and run a line from the first fixture back to the console.

Chauvet ShowXpress Screenshot
Chauvet ShowXpress Programming Screen

Speaking of consoles….this is where the rubber really meets the road.

There is a lot of confusion out there regarding DMX consoles, and I want to save you from making poor buying decisions.

The first thing that I want you to do is stay away from hardware-based controllers like the Chauvet Obey 40, American DJ DMX operator, etc.

It’s the 21st century, and these consoles are difficult to use and program and are just so darn confusing, especially if you are new to lighting.

The easiest and most versatile way to get started is with a PC-based controller like the Chauvet ShowXpress.  This is a great choice for DJ lighting because it works well and was designed from the ground up just for DJ work.  It’s inexpensive, and can run on any modern computer, so you probably have a PC for it already.

ShowXpress can run on a PC or Mac, and Chauvet offers both a simple, 10 fixture USB interface and a full 512-channel interface as well.  I recommend the full interface unless you simply can’t come up with the extra money, because it’s pretty easy to build your rig larger than the 10 fixtures allowed by the simple version.

If you don’t have a PC or Mac to use for your lighting control, then I would use the LightShark.  The LightShark is similar to ShowXpress, but runs on a stand-alone console that you control via a tablet.

Bringing All Of Your Lighting Together

At the end of the day, all of this technical knowledge is here for one reason – to serve you in creating an amazing show for your audiences and clients.

The most important thing to remember as you get started in DJ lighting is that it doesn’t have to be big, perfect or flashy to begin.  We all start somewhere, but starting is what gets the ball rolling to bigger and better things down the line.

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