How Do I Run My Stage Lighting Show From Stage?

Nov 07, 2022

Picture this – you’re in a band, are a DJ or are in a small church worship team, and you want to have a killer light show every night, but you don’t have anyone to run lights for you.

Money is tight already, and you certainly don’t have the budget to pay somebody else AND buy new lights!

While there are a number of different ways to make a great light show happen from stage, they each have their pluses and minuses.

In this article, I want to work through the 5 ways of running your band lighting from stage so that you can have a clear picture of the options and figure out what is best for you!

You might think that automating your lighting show is going to be expensive, but it really doesn’t have to be.

In fact, you may be surprised how inexpensively it can be done and how good it can look!  Let’s dive into the 5 different ways you can run your show from stage, starting with the simplest:

1. Sound Active Mode ($ – Free) (We Can Do Better)

The first and cheapest way of running your show from the stage is to use “sound active mode”.

It’s likely free because you simply take your lights and switch them into “sound active mode”.  Then, you watch them strobe erratically and change color out of time with the music.

While it’s true that newer DJ lights from the major brands do have better sound active modes today than they’ve ever had before, it’s still annoying over time!

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of sound-active mode.  It’s often worse for your show than having no lighting!

So, if you care about dynamics, which you do because it’s your music, we need to aim higher.

However, as students of stage lighting, we can do much better without much work or cost.

2. Basic Foot Pedal Controller Kits ($50-400)

Our next step up in complexity is the basic, non-MIDI foot pedal controllers that are out there for controlling lights.  

These units can give you some basic color or fixture changes during your songs and are a step above the dreaded “sound-active” mode.

Because the functionality really depends on what unit you buy, here is an example of these controllers, how they work and what they can do for your band’s lighting rig!:

LED Par System

One popular option is a LED par system like this ADJ Starbar Wash.

A package like this can get you some slightly more complex lighting looks with a really easy, quick setup.

The foot controller packaged with the LED pars allows you to change colors, bring up built-in programs, put the unit into sound active mode and blackout.

So, for really upbeat songs, you can put the unit into a sound-active mode, and then when you’re about to launch into a ballad, drop the lights into a static color.  Having control and using sound-active mode very selectively is a way to make a decent show without any effort!

The downside of such a unit is that you really can’t customize the color options or order, and your number of choices are fairly limited.

It’s a really great starting point for any band, and when you’re ready to move up to a more serious lighting controller, these lights can also be controlled by DMX.

So, the Starbar Wash is a great starting point, because you can use 100% of the system in a better lighting rig as you upgrade to bigger and better things!  Speaking of better…

3. ENTTEC EMU (A Few Hundred $’s + a PC)

The above control solutions are what I’d call “cute”.

They’re fine if you’re just starting out, and are a great way to improve your band’s lighting design from nothing.  But they are far from ideal, and for just a little bit more cost, you can get a whole lot more functionality!

This is where I really love the software solution ENTTEC EMU.   This software fills the void between simple foot pedal control and expensive automation in a simple-to-use package.


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