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Using Submasters for Busking Band Lighting

Following Concert Lighting Programming in 30 mins, Dimitris asked for more information on organising submasters/playbacks when lighting a concert. So here it is – ideas on how to layout your lighting console playbacks for simplicity and flexibility.

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

In Concert Lighting… we looked at using bits of programmed data, palettes and memories, as building blocks to create lighting looks “on the fly”. Each lighting op has their own pet way of laying out their desk (the guest LD who changed all my groups last week – me fumbling around trying to select fixtures for the support act!). This article is relevant to anyone who uses a console with some moving light control and submaster playbacks.

*Update – If you would like to read about more modern techniques in busking stage lighting, media and pixel mapping, check our my Essential Busk Pages experiments, starting with Playbacks Only.

Busking Your Show

Playing back your show, you might only have access to 10 submaster faders at one time plus the ability to change pages. Memories can be only replayed with adjacent faders, so think about the vertical layout – how the memories on submasters stack on top of each other by sub page. The word “stack” here is going to refer to submaster memories that are on the same fader, different page.

Live and Trigger Memories

The programming on the cheat sheet relies heavily on Palettes, so few actual memories are programmed. If you prefer submasters or your desk doesn’t support many palettes, the layout of your subs is even more important.

A Dimmer or Intensity Submaster is usually only “live” on stage when physically faded up. If you use similar programming to the Concert Programming Cheat Sheet, these are the PAR colour washes and moving spot dimmer memories. Movement chases or shapes also must stay up to be live on stage, as are any LED colour submasters that are HTP. We’ll call these “Live” Memories.

Trigger memories, such as Strobe On, Colour Red or Prism Rotate, only need to be triggered by raising a fader or hitting a submaster flash button. These submasters, once activated, don’t have to remain faded up – in fact, you should get into the habit of clearing them once the moving lights have responded. This ensures you don’t end up with extra faders up, confusing when you are changing pages. Activating Trigger memories has a similar effect to choosing palettes for selected fixtures – it makes them do something else.

Lighting control playback submaster layout

Choosing Submaster Layout

Understanding the two memory types, helps us decide on which memories not to stack on top of each other. You don’t want to have to “lose” your blue PAR wash, just to fire a new gobo into your waggly spots. So, stacking up Live memories with Trigger memories is avoided. Don’t forget that PAR colour washes can be instantly pushed up while fiddling with the next moving spot look, so keep them handy.

The image shows a selection of methods for ordering submaster memories over 3 pages. It is not a “real” layout but demonstrates the points below.

The memory types can also help you to choose subs that you can stack on top of each other. Maybe you won’t use a Spot Dimmer 100% sub at the same time as Spot Dimmer Chase, so they can stack up. Perhaps you could stack up a Circle Shape/Chase with a Pan Saw for the same reason – you are unlikely to run them both at once.

Each submaster page might have a few live memories, colour washes etc and a few trigger subs. The next page might have duplicates of some of the live memories, plus different triggers.

Duplicate subs are often used, to provide easy access to common Live memories on several submaster pages. There are two common ways to layout dupes.

Stacked – These memories, particularly colour washes, are stacked on top of each other. They have the benefit of the memory being on the same fader, even on different pages. The disadvantage is this approach can eat up submasters.

Diagonal – Stacking related attribute submasters diagonally has the advantage of being able to cut down the number of slots taken up by Live memories on each page. For example, put Blue Wash on Sub 1/ Page 1, Magenta on Sub 2 / Page 2 , Amber Sub 3 / Page 3 etc. This has the effect of putting similar memories (in this case Colours) “diagonally” across several pages (the yellow block in the image), giving flexiblity in using different memory types together. It’s a concept used by some Avolites Pearl operators but it’s not so easy without the famous Roller.


There’s no place like home.

Whatever layout you choose for your subs, you always need to know where you are. You can cut down “page confusion” by doing a number of things.

Create a Home Submaster Page – A lovely little page with all your favourite and most used stuff that you can feel at home in. When you have been off wandering across 6 pages of subs to get to the Freaky Techno Strobe sub, come right back before you end up staying amongst all those whacky effects you don’t remember programming. The home page could contain a “safety” look, Strobe Off or a “Just stop doing that , FFS!” memory as well as the basis of your show, good ol’ PAR washes.

Use only a few pages – A palette heavy programming style means you can fit a few colour washes, chases and shape or two on only 10 playbacks. If you need a bit more room, try using 1 page above and 1 page below your Home subs. 3 pages of good subs does plenty.

Get much further away from safety and you are asking for confusion. Straying across several pages, you end up with a handful of submaster faders running that you can’t quite recall what they do. Or even which page they are on.

Using Preset Faders

Assuming that your lighting desk allows, using Preset faders to push up dimmer levels can free up submasters for better uses. You don’t really need those Vocal spots on a sub or even your audience blinders. The layout of your preset faders is helpful here – different groups of lights in clusters next to each other. Use the whole desk, even the cue stack playback.

Find your own system

Everyone develops their own style when organising playbacks. Despite being a serial Avolites Pearl user, I have tried to keep the information to general ideas that can be used with any desks with submasters and pages. If you have any particular favourites playback tips or don’t understand anything, let us know in the comments section.

  1. Dimitris Vidos

    Cheers Rob!
    Exactly what I was looking for!

    Could you please elaborate a bit on the diagonal arrangement? I cannot see any gain in this: having an amber wash in a different sub on every page seems counter-productive, better to have it on the same sub, isn’t it?

    Also, wouldn’t it be a nice idea to organize one page with warm colours and chases, movements, gobos etc, and another with cold ones, in the same corresponding SubMasters? And then extend the idea on, say, five pages, each relying on a different base colour?

    (hope the above makes sense, english is not my native language)

  2. Rob

    Hi Dimitris

    I realised that some of the wording on diagonal stacking of duplicates didn’t make sense. It isn’t so relevant to modern lighting desks with a good page holdover facility – so I have deleted the example to clear things up.

    Your thoughts on Warm/Cold looks are another good method. Some operators use a Fast/Slow song method. I don’t often use these because they take up more pages than I usually record. When busking live bands I don’t know, I only use about 15 playbacks in total – making the show up with palettes.

  3. Steaders

    Thanks Rob.

    It’s nice to get some idea of how a pro works. Although I’m getting to grips with the desks I use, I never really had a clear idea of how to layout the subs & presets. I have frequesntly got “lost” when going from one page to another.

    I now have an idea of where to start and how to progress to make the desk more user-friendly.

  4. Smudge

    On my Cham Sys desk how would I got about having a stack of says gobos for my movers that I can bump though on the flash button? I just get the first thing in the stack after the fader is returned to zero – would a clear gobo / open make a good first entry in the stack?
    I know there is also a short cut to go to a cue in the stack which i can’t remember


  5. Rob Sayer

    @Smudge, the thing to know is that you are currently using the fader to activate channels like gobo when it’s raised. The action of the fader itself doesn’t need to affect these LTP channels and you can just bump through (or jump to) using the Play button ( I think the flash button only bumps intensities by default although you can change that)

    Where you need to look for all these things is in the Cue Stack window of the particular stack. Here you can type a cue number and goto a cue (or select the cue from the list and enter) and also set the fader options via the View Options softbutton.

    If you want to change the behaviour of the stack when you raise and lower the fader, look at the options : Fader activates stack and Fader releases stack. The default behaviour is that the fader activates the LTP channels above a certain level (like an Avo Pearl) and releases (deactivates) them on lowering but depending on how you run your show, you might not want this.

    Having said all that, you might just want to call up gobos on the fly using the palettes. HTH

  6. Phil

    Hi rob,
    could you expand a bit on what you mean by preset faders please! Are these aspecial type of submaster or what?


  7. Rob Sayer

    Hi Phil,

    The term preset faders refers to the faders on a desk that control individual channel levels, often in two “presets” of faders, duplicated to allow crossfading between the two.

    While you have to control each channel/dimmer individually, if the faders are laid out so that different purposes are next to each other, you can just grab a handful and adjust. Laying out of channels/faders can be either done within the desk (soft patching) or in the way you plug up fixture to the dimmers.

    Thanks for your question.

  8. Oliver

    Thank you very much for this article! I’ve recently started running the lighting for my school’s shows and I am preparing to do my first concert; this article has made me feel much more confident!

  9. Oliver


    My concert went brilliantly, with only a few issues in setting up. The actual format was different to what I expected, as we ended up pre-programming the lighting for every act that performed, so very little was done live, but the guide was still helpful anyway 🙂

  10. Liam

    Hey Rob,

    Just want to say a massive thanks for all your tutorials and advice on this site, I lit 5 bands last Friday at the venue I work at and it was my first time doing everything alone (usually I just rig/de-rig) but on the 28th I rigged, programmed and operated the desk during the 3 and a half hour set. I just want to say I took alot of your advice on board and the punters seemed to really enjoy themselves, and I guess I was pretty proud too.

    So thanks again!


  11. James Bunning

    Lost of questions and not enough tips so hear goes……

    Put the speed and or size of shapes or movement on a fader, this gives you much better control of movements and FX (shapes) so you can make it as fast/slow as you want. this is also good for strobe/shutter shapes
    on MagicQ this in on CUE STACK and the options soft button and fader FX size/speed on fader

    for an AVO Pearl you have to record in mode 2. get your shape in the programer, hit memory/cue, hit 2 on the key pad, the LCD will say record in mode2 and hit the sub master you want. this puts shape size and speed on the fader.

    also on MagicQ and a Pearl you can recall pallets to fade in over a set time by using the keypad before selecting the pallet. 1 = 1 second 2 = 2seconds etc. this way you can have colours fade in nicely not just snapping in.

    Also on the not using up too many sub masters front put a pan shape/FX on one fader and a tilt next to it. raise both together and hey presto you got your circle.

    put a bit of tape under the faders you dont want to use like your masters. When in a button bashing frenzy I always accidentally drop the Playback master fader on a pearl coz its next to playback(sub master) no. 1 and wonder why its gone dark.

    hope this helps

    great site by the way


  12. COREY

    Hey Rob, could you please explain what you mean by Warm look, and cool look ?Is this like in terms of color only, or Color and position ?

  13. Samuel

    What a nice article! Even it’s written a few years ago, it’s still very topical. So first of all: thank you 🙂

    I do some programming on a chamsys to. And of course I’ve some attributes, some complete scenes (= fall-back solutions) and so on.

    But I’m not quiet sure how I should organize all my specific scenes.
    That means: I program some complete scenes for a few songs. And I store them in a cue stack (yes, all scenes for one songe, in one cue stack – for every part in the song there is a scene..).
    But it feel uncomfortable for me. I just want to program the lightning matching perfectly the song. How do the experts do that? 🙂

    Thanks for your reply

  14. Troinix

    Just a quick one.

    Article really is good. I’m a FOH hum head but need to op lighting desk also. What I’ve being using is the jester ML24. Real easy for me to program for busking mode in limited time. And I do get some really good results. Works fine for say 8 moving heads and the usual fixtures.

    I need to upgrade and not sure what console I should actually go for. Price is a big factor for what I do cause this is usually an add on and with bigger events time is at a premium.

    So the question is which will be a quicker transition for me – titan touch, M2GO or something similar. It has to be a small footprint.

  15. Rob Sayer

    Coming from an ML24, both of those will be similar in terms of transition rate. The ML is quite a bit more limited and the whole ‘tagging’ thing is similar to a programmer based desk but via a slightly different concept. Search out an article on here about programmer based consoles.
    I’ve had a go on the Zero88 FLX and it’s pretty good too, ZeroOS is similar to other desks including the Avo and Martin. Many people know that I often suggest the Cham Sys MagicQ series but you’ll find the Avo or Martin equally fine.

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