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Concert Lighting Programming in 30 Minutes

In the middle of summer(?) music festival madness, On Stage Lighting gives you a 30 minute schedule and a cheat sheet to help program up your lighting desk for three days of bands. The mud has been removed from this article for reasons of hygiene.

Ok, so you missed out on running a desk at Glastonbury this year but on your own stage you’ve got some moving spots and a load of PAR64s – the usual festival rig. There are three days of school kid bands, tribute acts and questionable hot dogs stretching ahead of you.

Psst, did you know about my unique Introduction To Busking online course?

What are we trying to achieve?

Indoors or out, programming lights for multiple music acts is about flexibility. Creating different looks that are suitable for every act – even the German Oompah band.

Your programming must be easy to use, particularly if you will also be host to incoming guest Lighting Designers. They may get time to do their own programming, but it helps if your work is well organised.

Programming a lighting desk for flexibility is not about recording as many memories as you can. Creating lighting “ingredients” is key, so here is our tick list for flexible lighting programming.

The Important Bit

Programming moving lights for best “buskability” is about recording “building blocks”, palettes and memories, that you can instantly recall to create killer looks during the show. Elements such as colours, positions or movement are recorded separately and overlaid on demand – this is called recording “by attribute” (or by channel, partial memories etc.). Check your console manual for the details of this facility.

Programming your moving lights this way leaves you without “whole” looks in your desk. It’s flexible but does mean that operating a show will take some concentration. If you need a fall back, you could always program some full “safety”looks to push up when you run out of ideas (or fingers).

We’ve only got 30 minutes so we’d better get on with the programming.

Lighting Programming Cheat Sheet

The quick festival programming cheat sheet is in PDF format. Let’s look at the details.

Generics / Conventional Lighting

Get your PARs done. Subs for colour washes – Blue, Reds Amber, Whatever. Just 2 chases – Cold Chase (blues, lavenders, steels); Warm Chase (reds, ambers, pinks). You should be able to alter the chase speed and 2 or 3 steps per chase is fine.

Moving Light Programming

(don’t forget – record only relevant attributes!)

Groups – Quick selection of moving lights that are used for the rest of your programming AND during the show.
All Spots
Front/Rear Spots – Whatever makes sense for your rig layout.
Odds and Evens – Or a way of selecting half of your Spots for “two colour” looks.

Once fixture selection is out of the way, next up is…


All Spots @ 100% submaster. This will be used in your show and be the basis of the rest of your programming. The fixtures need to be lit up to continue, so leave this sub @ full from now on. Make sure that your desk doesn’t record Dimmer @ 100% in all your other programming, though.

Dimmer/Intensity Chase – While we’re doing Intensity, a variable speed chase of your spots is useful.


While playing back your show, palettes allow you to apply colours, gobos and other settings to selected moving lights. If your desk doesn’t support palettes, you can try programming them as “by attribute” submaster memories – bit of a pain.

Get your moving spots pointing at the wall/floor, so you can see what the beam is doing.

Colour Palettes – Instead of using auto generated palettes, pick some colours that compliment your PARs. Don’t waste time filling up your palettes with hundreds of colours you are never going to use. Programming 6 – 8 colour palettes is plenty.

Colour wheel spin – Why not add in a colour changing palette for cheesy disco type looks? Colour spin speed is chosen based on how “bangin’” your gig is likely to be.

Gobo Palettes
Again, choose gobos you are likely to use including a “beam splitter” gobo to use through haze.. Rotating gobos are most useful for moving effects. Set a Gobo focus at the same time.

Gobo Rotate – Fast / Slow / Stop. Speeds down to personal preference. Attributes like this need a “Stop” palette to halt them when required.

Shutter and Iris – Strobe On / Strobe Off / Random Strobe. Iris Wide / Iris Tight (for “pencil thin” beams)

Prism Palettes – Off / On No Spin / Spin. You can record a two spin speeds if you like.

Position Palettes – Spend a little time setting up your positions but don’t forget that you can tidy them up later (when it’s not so sunny).

Positions such as Up, Down, In, Out, Audience, Cross, Down Stage Centre, Drums etc. Set yourself a limit – 10 positions go a long way. If you record positions as partial memories, set a fade time of 3 seconds so they don’t crash into place, it looks better.

Finally, some Movement.

Shapes or Chases – Pan Saw / Tilt Saw / Another that you like ( diamond, square etc). Some consoles allow to adjust the size/speed “on the fly” – very useful. If not, then a bit more work recording Fast, Slow versions.

The moves are most useful if you can change their “centre point” with your position palettes, so only record the movement – not the actual position of your fixtures.

So that’s it. You could spend hours adding split colours or fancy positions but the elements on the cheat sheet list will give a wide range of lighting looks. Ok, if you are new to programming this might take you a bit longer that 30 minutes but with a bit of practice you could do it in 20.

Lighting programming is about a clear set of goals and an efficient use of your programming time – something that is harder if you don’t have a theatre style plotting sheet. A simple tick list can help you get it done.

If you have any questions or comments about programming or busking the lighting for a concert or festival, put them in box below.

  1. Peanut

    This article was really informative and useful. Having just spent the weekend doing 3 x festivals back to back (including one school and lighting for Catatonia’s ‘Cerys Matthews’ whilst standing in about a foot of rainwater…) it’s great to read something which a relatively new lampie such as myself can hold up against my own performance and make sure I’m on the right track! 🙂

    Thanks OSL!!

  2. Rob

    @ Peanut – Thanks your comment. I had the inspiration to write this article standing in a FOH in the rain watching umbrellas bob up and down to the music. Didn’t know Cerys was still doing the rounds.

    @ Dimitris – I was going to answer your question with some pointers about organising submasters in concert programming. But there were too many. Let’s just say that you need to think of your subs pages vertically, rather than horizontally.

    Article coming up.

  3. Saravanan

    Hi! Very useful tips for a basic programmer. I hv few doubts to clarify. While using Pearl 2008 wer I can save my shutter type effects in my desk. Like a serial of the moving lights shutters glowing one by one. I know I cudnt save it as a palette. But having jus 15 playback masters wer do I can save these effects. In a Pearl 2008 desk, I’m using 5 masters for par cans. 8 for shapes. I want to use 5 more for these shutter effects. Pls help me out how I can managae these. (May be without changing the rollers)

  4. Rob Sayer


    If you want your shutter effects to be in a pre programmed sequence, you will have to use Chases which can only be saved onto playbacks. Shutter chases created with the Shape Generator also only run from playbacks, but you could use your moving light built in shutter macros. These give you less specific control but allow you to save the effect onto palettes.

    On the Diamond 4 / Pearl Expert with Titan software, you can use any of the preset faders on the desk as playbacks. Handy.

    Thanks for your comment.

  5. Saravanan

    Thanks for that tip Rob! I’m little bored of using the same pan saw, tilt saw, swings, cirlces and spiral shapes. All the programmers here use these same repeated shapes for programming. Pls tel me wat cud I do additionally more to make my programming more special and difft from others. (Pearl 2008 Desk)

  6. Rob Sayer

    Hi Saravanan

    Pan / Tilt saws are the basic building blocks of pretty much any movement effect – Circle is only a combination of the two. While the Pearl may not seem to have the shape editor of the Grand MA or Hog III, the shape generator does pretty much the same thing.

    Once you have your Saw, the options for interesting effects start with Speed, Size and Offset (Spread) – large variety of effects from those.

    Then you have the option of running multiple shapes – Pan Saw+ Tilt Saw+Dimmer Saw etc – and adjusting the 3 parameters of each one to create different FX.

    While a moving head will only do a limited number of actual moves, the real limitations are in the head of the LD.

  7. Saravanan

    Thanks for that 3 combination idea. I tried it today in my warehouse, it was working fantastically. I understood that the light can do only few things. Rest remains in the head of the LD:).
    Ok. Now another doubt. Is der any way to download any new shapes uploaded by avolite gurus for their other advanced desks.

  8. Rob Sayer

    If there are any mods out there to the SG.DAT file, then the Avo forums or the Blue Room is the place to ask. If you fancy it, you could edit the file yourself – there is some information at Avo on the the file, I think. Not my cup of tea, tho.

  9. Hawksine

    Cool just found this blog on the same day I learned that I need to master a new ETC console. I Love the way you lay out your process for programing a show.

  10. Glenn Deaver

    I have a question about setting up lighting. I am the pastor of a small Church and our lighting guy had to leave for college. Let me begin by saying that I am in the dark about lighting programming. I worked in a stereo shop while in college, and I understand wiring and basic concepts, but I have no experience in lighting wiring and setup. We have a dmx panel and 4 American DJ LED light bars on our Church platform. Somehow, something got out of sequence and we cannot control the lights on the platform, they run on their own, with some control, but then it seems that they are in slave mode to other lights and run on their own.

    I would like to reprogram the lights. I was not sure how to do it. there are four buttons on the LED bars that read “Mode”, “Set Up”, “Up” and “Down”. There is a digital readout where it tells what mode etc the light is in in red writing. We have the lighting daisy chained and all of the connections are made and seem to be ok. So how do we set the lighting up. What should the digital readout be set on for each light? We desperately need help.


    Glenn Deaver

  11. Erwin

    Hi rob,

    This article is very informative and i learned alot about it.
    But i have one question. As we save gobo rotate(fast or slow) how do we set it to stop??
    Do we just set a static gobo which is included in the wheel or there is another way?? I have a show which needs me to programme and its onli 2days away…really need help.

  12. Rob Sayer

    Hi Erwin

    Within the Gobo Speed attribute (that is often, depending on the moving light, also the Gobo Index) there should be a range of values. Rotation at different speeds, clockwise and anti-clockwise and a Stop value. In a memory or palette, record that Stop and play it back to stop your gobos from rotating – and don’t forget to do the same with strobes or prism rotates – having a Stop palette for these LTP attributes is important as they continue rotating/strobing/whatever until you ask them to stop.

  13. Erwin

    thanks alot…I only know how to stop strobes which i will set an open fixture for it…So far i didn’t realize about the stop value in gobo rotation..Thanks for the info, might try it during programming. I have another question though. Like wat you stated in your guide, how do we save playbacks on a fader on a expert titan. Do we just memory our programming and select the swop like how we usually do on the playbacks?? For example- I put in a circle and dimmer saw as my programme and when i memory it i just save it on the place where i patch my lights?? If so when i wanna play it do i just push the faders?? cause as i remember pushing faders will give the lights its dimmer value. Sorry my english is not that good and you might be kinda confused but i hope you could help. Thanks alot in advance =D

  14. Rob Sayer

    Erwin, if I recall: As long as the preset fader has nothing patched to it, you can save your look there. Preset faders with fixtures patched to them obviously control the intensity of that fixture. 🙂

  15. Erwin


    I personally need to thank you myself…From all your tips here i learned alot and done alot. There are more things for me to learn cause the titan is just never ending…I’m programming more shows now and I used most of your tips here…Thanks alot..

  16. lighting tech

    I see this is old but im confused im using a range of avo desks now what do you mean by thinking vertical rather than horizontal?


  17. Rob Sayer

    Vertical vs. Horizontal relates to the way that playbacks are positioned to be the most useful and accessible with other playbacks. In the case of the old Rolacue, this relates to the way looks are recorded around the roller, but the theory still holds for modern desks with multiple pages of submasters and where you are unable to play back a cue that is recorded on the same ‘fader’ as an active cue. For desks with motorised faders, you can often playback and hold any cue, regardless of which fader or page it is on.

  18. Rcb


    Amazing tutorials.
    I began work in this industry some 25 years ago. There was nothing like this back then. We had to learn “on the job” so to speak.

    As has been said, there is no right or wrong way with programming, it’s up to the LD, though the basic building blocks you include in your articles are crucial steps.
    Keep up the good work.

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