How to program lights to music

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Steve Irwin – ZioGiorgio Editor@laculture.info

Another great question I gets asked a lot is, how do I program lighting to music. Whether that be live music or even just syncing lights to some type of canned music. It seems like a simple question but it actually is a great one to ask. I just added a video below that is a great sample of “lights to music”, please check it out.


Your big trick here is to make the music of course fit your lighting and your lighting to fit the music. It’s a complex game of cat and mouse because while you want to enhance the music you don’t want to upstage your artist (and/or music) ether. What I have always encouraged people here is to look closely at what their goal is. In other words is the music canned, and I just need to basically “blink” lights creatively to it? Or is there a band on stage who has particular needs for each song or would certainly like someone who could read what they are trying to convey with each piece of music and match the lights to that.
Music-DJ-Lighting-Art-work 720So to get really deep we can break down music by it’s structure. I have seen many a good LD’s program this way. I can remember back when my buddy and I ran ESP Studios in Atlanta, GA and Steve Owens came in to Pre-Program his upcoming 2001 Lynyrd Skynyrd Tour. You can see his plot below.
ESPskynyrdPLOT6 720Steve was great, we played their songs over and over again and he would just make notes on a pad of the up beats, the down beats, the choruses, harmonies and everything that was relevant to that song. He would literally just make little downmarks for the down beats and up marks for the upbeats and we just flew through programming.
cave vr 1Another approach is to literally match the beats of your lights to the beats of your music is by using something called timecode. Typically we would get a SMTPE timecode feed from our video friends but sometimes you can work with midi timecode and even other forms of triggers for your cues. That is all we are doing here. Just as usual when we program, we make a list of lighting looks that match each portion of a song that we can then either manually manipulate or we can have it automated by timecode. You will find this a very good way to work with videos and other reliable sources that you can count on for consistency for playback. The more live the music is, the more you will want and need to run your shows manually.

You want to learn how to break down songs by parts and here are a few examples of the basic song structures
structureSo the bottom line here is don’t be afraid to have fun with your music. Concerts are super fun no matter how big or small they are!
Manowar EarthshakerJust simply programming lighting to music can really be rewarding. It takes time and patience. Of course this is an area where a pre-visualizer will help you a lot!! No matter what scenerio you are looking at, this will allow you to pre-program your looks and get everything set before you get on site.
PrevizThere is a cost for a pre-viz program, but showing up onsite completely preprogrammed, that is priceless! I heavily suggest trying to find a way to work with some type of previsualization program for lighting because these days, we rarely have the time needed on site to program what you want for your band or your music show. If you are stuck with out, just get good at setting up your console so you are set for each show with plenty of preprogrammed effects so you can do the show needed for the particular mood of that evening. Most of all, have fun!!

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