Band Lighting – How To Light a Great Show

Picture this: You’ve just finished setting up your band’s lighting rig.  

Maybe you’re in the band, the audio guy, or perhaps your #1 job is actually lighting.

What happens next in order to get a great show up and running?

Band Lighting – How to Light a Great Show

Step 1: Check Your Rig

The very first thing I do once my lighting rig is up is to quickly flash through my lighting rig.  While I don’t check every parameter of every single light, I want to get a good idea that everything is working and addressed correctly.

My process looks like this:

  • Turn everything on and to white.  This lets me know if something is mis-addressed or in a wrong mode because it will turn a different color or not work at all!
  • Put everything in a color chase – This quickly does 2 things.  The first is that it confirms that the modes are correct on all the fixtures, and it allows me to quickly check that the lights are placed out in order.
  • Click through each fixture and make sure they respond on the console correctly.  I also like to grab all of my moving lights at this point and check gobos/colors/beam features and make sure everything lines up.

Step 2: Focus + Build Groups & Pallets

At this point, it’s time to turn on your lighting fixtures and do a light focus.

My goals when focusing my lighting is to:

  1. Light the band
  2. Light the set/surrounds
  3. Light the audience (optional)

For the band, I either use non-moving fixtures or dedicate movers to light the band 100% of the time.

When I focus my band lights, I want to cover the band members and any spaces they’ll move to while keeping as much light off of the set and audience as possible.

Focusing the set and audience lighting has the same goals.  I want to light the set/audience, but not spill light all over the place so that I can create separation with my lighting during the show.

Building Groups & Pallets

Our next step is to begin programming – and if your console supports it, building groups and pallets is the place to begin. (If not, just skip ahead to “Program Like Mad”)


automated lightingGroups are a way to access different sets of lights as you program.  For example, you may program groups for:

  • Frontlight
  • Backlight
  • Sidelight
  • Setlight
  • Left Side of Rig
  • Right Side of Rig
  • Center of Rig
  • Even Fixtures
  • Odd Fixtures

Basically, you want to create a group for any set of lights which you’d like to access easily as you program.  Don’t worry if you don’t create tons of groups at first – as you get into lighting, you’ll find yourself thinking “I should create a group for this”, and your list will grow!


If you console supports pallets, this is your next step.  Pallets, sometimes called “presets”, “macros”, or “focus positions”, are the building blocks of programming.

They are sometimes separated by intensity, focus, color and beam attributes, but some consoles lump them all together as well.

The real selling point of using pallets is that a) it speeds up your programming later and b) it allows you to change a color, position or other attribute quickly without having to go through all of your cues to fix it!  You simply update the pallet and all of the cues that reference it will change.

I begin by building pallets that only contain focus information for my moving lights.  While each show is different, I tend to build 4-6 focus (position) pallets and then move on unless the show requires more for some reason.

Then, I go through and program pallets for color and beam so that I am all ready to program like mad.

I like to program the colors Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Violet and Amber, and pick 3-6 gobos that I like and program those in too.

You may notice that I am not programming a ton of pallets.  Just like groups, you can program a TON of pallets that differ just a slight bit, but, the audience can’t tell.  So keep that in mind, and don’t be afraid to simplify to make your life a bit simpler!

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Step 3: Program Like Mad

wNow that we’ve got our building blocks together, it’s for the fun part – building looks!

For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that I am lighting for a band who’s music I know, and that I have a set list.

Even though I do have that information, I still begin by building a few warm, cool and neutral looks that I can grab in case the band decides to veer off the beaten path.  Because that never happens, right?

I make these cues accessible on their own lists, somewhere on the console that I can grab them quickly.

Then, I begin to program songs.  I generally like the first program the songs that have the least movement to get a few wins under my belt.  Then I move on and finish out the setlist from there.

When I’m programming a song, I begin by visualizing in my head what I want this song to look like.  The top things I am thinking about are “How do I make this song look different from the others” and “What colors make sense for this song?

Then, I sit down and begin programming the opening look.  Don’t worry about perfection here, as most modern lighting consoles allow you to edit your looks later, or at least re-program and over-write the look you created earlier!

It’s not essential to listen to the music as you program if you do know the music well, but if you can’t hear the song in your head, it would be a good idea to cue it up on your phone as you program.

Then, I work through the natural progression of the song, building different cues(looks) as the song fits.  Sometimes, songs will be a “one-look-wonder”, and other times a song will have many different looks.  Don’t be afraid to make slower songs simple, as it will help your more dynamic songs look even better.

Step 4: Run Your Show

Band Lighting BasicsNow that you’ve got your songs programmed, it’s showtime!  In this example, I’ve programmed all of my songs as single cuelists.

This means I’ve built the show so that you simply press a single “go” button for each song, and hit the cues along with the band.  This is the simplest way to play back your show, but lacks the flexibility to improvise and be more dynamic.

If your console supports it, one way that you can add a lot of punch to your show is to program some cues that you can grab at will to add some dynamics to your show, like putting your audience lights, strobes, of a chase on a fader.

Whether you’re brand new to lighting, or have been lighting for awhile, I truly hope this post has been beneficial to you as a overview to lighting a band.  If you haven’t already, take a minute to visit some of the links in the post for even more detail on making your lighting a success!

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