How Do You Automate Lighting for a Band or Church?

automated lighting lightkey midi triggering onyx timecode Oct 11, 2023

When you’re gigging as a small band or run the worship for a small church, choosing to automate some or all of your lighting can make a HUGE difference in the impact you make. Learn the basics of “why” here and what steps you need to take BEFORE you automate.

If you light music or if you are in a band or worship team working as a DJ and you work on a smaller scale where you don’t need to pay a lighting person to set up everything, then you may find that the biggest challenge you have is getting a really interesting show or service every night.

If you happen to be both performing in the show and running the lighting for it there are a couple options for you to put on a really great show.


You may or may not pay a lighting person to run your show but odds are, you don’t in fact even need this help or added expense with smaller venues and shows.

In the event that you don’t have that extra hand with help setting up and running the show, you may find that you need a good option to be able to work the lighting directly from stage. This is where automation comes in!


Sometimes when you are on the stage yourself, running the lighting really just isn’t a feasible option to do so smoothly.


If you find that when you are doing lighting on a smaller scale it’s highly recommended to break it down to the few essential fixtures that you need and then spending the bulk of your time getting the correct software or console solution in place and programming it wisely to save you time and effort.

There are a variety of options to consider when you are deciding to go the automation route and it can be a bit overwhelming. Ultimately it comes down to your personal needs and what will work best and simplest for your venue and show.

Things to Consider

When it comes to automating lighting or pre-programming, there’s a few things to think about. The first important factor to consider is the setup going in to the automation process.

Set up

No matter what lighting system you are using you want to make sure that you have a lot of things to choose from. If your consul or software has pallets or presets, then you have likely built up a lot of them in order to be able to create different looks when you put on your show.


As you set things up and program everything to your liking, it is important to pay attention that you are doing this in an orderly fashion to make things as easy as possible on yourself. Organization is key for simplicity!

Take care to build the building blocks that you need for your show from the very start. Create groups for all the things you want to use commonly together, then create your present or pallets if your console allows and start to build cues that you know and can recognize easily in your show.

How Do I Automate My Lighting?

Let’s discover how to run lights via backing tracks through MIDI or OSC commands. What programs do you need, and how do they work together?

This month we are discussing everything you need to know about automation. Let’s talk about automating your lighting with backing tracks!

Backing Tracks

Backing tracks is one avenue of automation that can assist you in making the lighting during your show much easier, but if you have not used them before you may feel rather hesitant to give it a try.

Common Misconceptions

If you haven’t used backing tracks before you might have the preconceived notion that they will stick you into a very rigid type of structure. Good news is that this is really not the case with modern systems.

Another concern may be that you wonder if you want to pause, or go off beat that you may not be able to do that. But not to worry! This method is not as rigid as you may think.

How To Synchronize

Synchronizing your lighting using backing tracks is actually much easier than you would imagine. One way you can use your backing tracks very simply is to play through a whole song. This is a very popular way to use them and allows you to play video or lyrics along with it and have everything run smoothly.

Live Tracker (Affiliate Link)

Live tracker allows you to play videos, songs, and even files all the way through along with your lighting. In Live Tracker currently you still can’t generate files which can be frustrating but it can still work really well for running backing tracks.

It allows a super simple arrangement on a time line where you can organize your show the way you want it and just hit play and let it go.

If you choose to use a program like Live Tracker you will likely set up a MIDI signal to cue you when the lighting changes. Different programs look for a different type of signal and the way you lay out your lighting is going to change what signals you send.


Ableton allows you to have to consecutive views of your project to allow you to combine different types of content. You are able to bring in multiple clips or files and fire through different clips at different parts of songs, as well as repeat different parts of songs which gives you quite a bit more flexibility with your show.

Applying Lighting to Backing Tracks

There is a couple different things you are going to need to make this method work. The first, of course, is your backing track program of choice. The lighting console that you choose to use will also make a big difference on the type of MIDI signals or files you can use along with it.

What if You Need to Fire a LOT of Cues and MIDI or OSC becomes unreliable?

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.

Example: How the Band We Three Automated Their Lighting with Ableton Live and LightKey

Can you run a lighting show with 100% automation as a gigging band? Great question, and one a lot of lighting professionals are curious about! In this video, We Three and David collaborate to show you how to make a very dynamic show happen in LightKey!

If you are a band, a church, or other small venue about to put on a live show, you might be wondering how to sync up your show with your lighting and what the best options are as far as getting everything to run smoothly and on time.

Up until now there have been two solid choices for live show lighting automation. The first being DMX or the second being LightKey. They both have their pros and cons but if you are just starting out, LightKey is a really great option to explore.

LightKey Setup

A lot of times people using LightKey in Ableton will build out their live tap with just a few basic looks and then will simply fire one lighting button or one scene at a time. This basic method works perfectly fine, but if you are looking to add a little more flare to your show you can go about things a different way and get some beautiful results.

It can be a little confusing to add multiple tracks to use in your live show but it’s definitely not an insurmountable task and it is certainly worth the little bit of extra effort.


Setting up your lighting program to be able to control and trigger fades on a case by case basis is possible through Ableton! The best way to do this when you are figuring out how to automate your show is to work on this in the program that you are most comfortable with using.

Whether you are using LightKey with Ableton or some other live program, you can get the same basic effects. You just have to go with what works best for you and your show and what you are used to.

LightKey Benefits

If you are a band and you are looking to trigger your live show with lighting then LightKey is a really great way to do it. What it allows you to have the option of doing is to either bring in one scene at a time, two scenes at a time, or multiple. It also gives you fader controls if you so desire.

Ultimately you get an end result of different lighting going at different times in different scenes, all working together seamlessly. Everything will look highly organized and be automated with ease. It really gives you a professional and intricate looking show without too much extra effort.


Using LightKey, you can easily manage your lighting and have everything working together time wise with very little effort. It gives you the ability to put on an awesome, dynamic show that is always on time because you trigger it out of your backing tracks.

What If You Want to Automate Lighting, But You Don't Have Any Backing Tracks?

Syncing automation when you have backing tracks to use along with your show is essentially quite easy, but what about when you aren’t using music along with your lighting? Let’s talk about automating your lighting show without any backing tracks!

If you want to make a great lighting show from stage without any backing tracks, or perhaps even without any automation at all there are a couple ways you can go about it and put on a fantastic show.


The types automation you can use when you are putting on a show without backing tracks go from simple to complex. You may be a small band, church, or other small venue, and in such a case you may be the only person responsible for or able to run the lighting. In this case it makes a lot of sense to be able to automate your lighting to make things easier on yourself.

Having a way to run the lighting without requiring a full lighting operator can be really beneficial for a small venue.

Factors To Consider

When you are running the lighting for your small venue, there are a couple things to consider when deciding on your automation process. The first is how do you run your show or service? The second would be how do you want to run your lighting? The third thing to think about is how do you want your show to look and how complex do you really want to make it?

What to Look For

There are a few things to look for when you are figuring out the best solution for your lighting that will serve to suit your needs for automation.

When deciding what works best for your venue, it’s important to think about the things that are already being triggered in your show. Whether that be ProPresenter MIDI, Proclaim, or some other type of system in a potential church setting, you can use these which are already in place to fire lighting to match your graphics on screen.

In the case where you may be a band performing in small venues, something that could be helpful to consider is if you already have someone who is using foot pedals who could work to trigger your lighting when needed.


It can really make life a lot easier if you take a moment to look for opportunities where you possibly have pieces of software or instruments, or other devices on stage that are already being fired to go along with the music such as slides during a worship service.

How Do You Want to Run Your Lighting

A main thing to think about when considering your automation options is how you want to run your lighting. Do you want to opt for a simpler show or are you thinking about a fully synchronized show that has a lot of dynamic elements and multiple changes to the lighting?


One of the biggest tips is to use a foot pedal! When it comes to foot pedals you have the option to really choose something that meets you needs because there are plenty of great choices out there for simplicity as well as more complex show set ups.

If you choose a more complex option of foot pedal such as the Behringer FCB1010 you can actually map them however you want to suit your needs. You can use the multiple pedals to go with each song, or instead of mapping out ten different songs, you can use each pedal for different lighting options throughout your show. It works brilliantly either way!

If you choose to use the buttons for different lighting scenes it is a great way to have the ability to fire a really interesting lighting show without having to pre program the entire thing.


The biggest key when thinking about automating lighting changes without a lighting operator or backing tracks is to consider how you are going to run everything. Do you have the ability to have someone pushing the buttons and working the lighting or do you plan to have slides or graphics trigger your lights?

When it comes to creating a dynamic show without automating, it is a little bit harder than it would be with backing tracks than without but certainly not impossible! It may never be quite as detailed of a show as it would be with backing tracks but you can still create a great show that rivals anything else in your local area with a little planning and creativity.


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