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St. Vincent performing at Carriageworks. Image taken by Daniel Boud.


Advanced stage lighting

You'll Discover:

  • Lighting types.
  • Tips on matching your lighting rig to suit your stage.
  • What a DMX controller is and how to use one.
  • Advanced tips on lighting scenes.
  • Lighting tips during live performance.

See our Basic stage lighting for small venues guide first.

This article is for venues who are looking to take their stage to the next level by installing lights that can be pre-programmed, or controlled during a performance by a lighting operator.


Lights for medium to large stages

RGB LED Lights

As described in our basic lighting guide, these are a common choice in venues, and the most versatile for small and large spaces/stages.

RBG LED’s - the Lixada DMX LED stage PAR strobe. A circular light with many small circular red blue and green bulbs.
One of many RBG LED’s on the market - the Lixada DMX LED stage PAR strobe.


LEDs also come in a ‘bar’ styles. They can work to create a ‘wash’ of light, and are sometimes positioned on the floor or directly above performers on the ceiling.

Bar style RBG LED example -  Beamz LCB144 - a long strip of many red blue green and yellow bulbs.
Bar style RBG LED example -  Beamz LCB144.

Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight (ERS)

Also called ‘the leko’ (which is actually a brand of ERS), they are adjustable so that you can sharpen or soften the light onstage like you would a camera lens. They also have shutters so that you can control where the light lands on-stage (also called the ‘throw’ of light).

Image, example of one of many ERS lights on the market - the Ovation E-910FC IP. A light hung from a rig or ceiling that illuminate one targeted area or person.
Image, example of one of many ERS lights on the market - the Ovation E-910FC IP


Fresnels (pronounced: ‘Fruh-nel’) are generally used for creating stage ‘washes’ rather than throwing focused light to particular people or objects onstage. They’re used to create a mood or atmosphere. Fresnels provide a softer light to par cans.

Example of a fresnels light - a small light hung from a rig or the ceiling.
Example of a Fresnels light

Par Cans

A classic ‘single colour’ light type with a single light bulb, where you attach a colour gel to get the colour you want. They get quite hot so should be handled with care. Not as versatile as LED lights, but some people still love the more ‘analogue’ light that par cans provide.

Image of a Par Can light. A silver light that can generally be mounted to the ceiling or to a lighting rig.
Example of a Par Can


Think Batman! Spotlights are huge, powerful, solid lights. When used in a professional performance (often theatre) setting. Traditionally they are set up at the back of the venue and manually moved around to point at the stage by a technician, with the aim of following and lighting a performer. They might also be located overhead (provided you have a high ceiling, in a control booth (‘spot booth’) or at front of house.

Image shows example of a spotlight on a stage illuminating individual members of a band.
Image from Wikipedia’s ‘Spotlight (Theatre Lighting)’ article.

Moving Lights

Intelligent lights that can be programmed to move in different states. Usually you have an operator and might use simple cues during the event to trigger off programmed lighting states and movement. It’s best to not leave moving lights running continuously!

Image shows five moving lights illuminating a mirror ball.
Image: five moving yokes lighting up a mirror ball, Wikipedia article on Intelligent lighting

Other light gear you may need for larger stages:

  • Lasers & Strobe Lights: create dramatic effects (use sparingly and with caution)!
  • Hazers: create a thin mist effect which adds dimension to a stage.
  • Lighting rigs/frames (e.g. trusses, tripods).
  • Dimmer rack or mixing desk (DMX controller section is further down this article).
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Configurations to suit venue size and stage

The lights you buy will vary based on your stage size, ceiling height, position of lights from front of stage, and of course your budget. As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to light up everyone onstage, and ideally have some separation - or tasteful crossover - between individual light beams.

Before buying a light find out its ‘throw’ and ‘distribution’, to work out how far the light travels, and how it spreads. The distance of the light from the stage is crucial, so ensure you get lights that suit both the distance that the light will be positioned from the stage (if it’s out front and pointing at stage) or ceiling height (if pointing from stage ceiling down).

At a minimum, lights should be configured to provide four areas of coverage:

  • Downstage Right
  • Downstage Centre
  • Downstage Left
  • Upstage Centre (Drums)
Diagram highlighting the four positions of light coverage. Downstage right, downstage centre and downstage left at the front of the stage while with up stage centre is at the back.
The areas of coverage for stage lighting.


You might use more focused lights in some of those four coverage areas and washes in other areas, or a mix of both for alternate lighting options and combinations. On a small stage, the distribution of light from those 4 coverage areas will fill in the other areas.

When selecting lights and setting up your rig, you should consider the following questions:

  1. How will you be hanging these lights? Are you able to rig a light frame and affix it permanently to the ceiling in your venue or are you restricted?
  2. What mood are you trying to create? You won’t need lasers or a strobe for an intimate, folk-focused venue.
  3. What is your budget?
  4. How much power will this rig draw and will you need to select LED only lights to reduce power consumption?
  5. What are the health and safety concerns for patrons and staff when considering special lights like strobe, UV and laser?
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Using a DMX controller to improve lighting

A DMX controller (digital multiplex signal or DMX 512) is a lighting and other machine controller (e.g. smoke machine). It’s also called a DMX 512 because of its capability to control up to 512 channels.

Most DMX’s store ‘scenes’ of different lighting states or presets that you can toggle between and change to match key parts in the show (for example changing to a moodier lighting scene for a sad, slow tempo song).

If you’re just starting out or wanting the simplest of lighting then this won’t be the lighting setup for you - but if you are interested in expanding your venue’s capabilities - a DMX controller and intelligent lighting might be worth exploring.

DMX controllers and intelligent lights don’t cost too much these days. Historically they have been the domain of high-end concert technicians, but as technology becomes cheaper so have lighting systems.

Here’s a basic rundown of how to get a DMX lighting system set up in your venue:

  1. Buy or hire a DMX controller.
  2. Buy or hire some intelligent lights.
  3. Link the controller up to a laptop or desktop computer using a DMX to USB converter.

Image shows a DMX control to USB convertier - one end of the cord is a USB the other is a DMX converter.
Example of a DMX to USB converter

         4. Install DMX control software on the computer. Widely used examples include DMXControl (free), Daslight and VirtualLightdesk (paid).

Here’s a diagram of a lighting rig setup showing a DMX control panel and dimmer rack linked to both intelligent lights and regular LED lights:

Image is a diagram of a lighting rig set up - from lighting control desk to dimmer rack to individual lights.
Source: Theatrecrafts
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Pick basic lighting colours for your events

As discussed previously in this guide, older lights (non-LED) can only produce one colour with the use of a cellophane colour gel and one lighting state at a time.

RBG LED’s can however change to multiple lighting states with the flick of a button. Generally the colours on offer are:

  • Red
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow
  • White

Red, green and blue are of course primary colours so you can add them together to make:

  • Red + Green = Yellow
  • Red + Blue = Magenta
  • Green + Blue = Cyan
  • Red + Green + Blue = White

You can also make different versions of these colours depending on the degree of each of the colours in the mix.

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Design lighting scenes for various contexts

Scenes are different lighting states or presets that you can toggle between and change to match key parts in the show (for example changing to a moodier lighting scene for a sad, slow tempo song).

The best starting point is with a colour wheel that you can reference with putting scenes together like this one:

Image shows a colour wheel that outlines different shades of colours to choose from.
Colour wheel

If you’re after a physical colour wheel you can find them to order online or you could save a digital version on your phone or other portable device.

We’ve mentioned the basics in our guide on basic lighting for small venues, but below we go into more detail about lighting scenes.

According to Pro Audio Files there are a few common types:


“Monochromatic means one colour, but most people like to use different shades. Even though these looks can be a bit boring, they work well for setting the stage, opening bands, or songs with colours in the title.”

Complimentary Colours

“Two colours that compliment each other. These looks work well in most situations. Common examples are:

  • Red/Green
  • Blue/Yellow
  • Amber/Magenta
  • Cyan/Amber”


“Although it’s harder to pull off, you can use three different colours in a scene. Pick colours that create a triangle on your color wheel.

The most common options are:

  • Red/Green/Blue
  • Cyan/Magenta/Yellow”

Adjacent Colours

“Similar to monochromatic, you can create scenes with adjacent colours on the colour wheel. To pull this off you typically have to use custom colours, but it can create a cool faded look.”

Colour Temp

“Similar to adjacent colours, you can create looks using three colours of the same “temperature”. For instance, you could use three “warm” colours like red, orange and yellow. Or three “cool” colours like magenta, blue and cyan.”

(Descriptions taken directly from Pro Audio Files)

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Lighting techniques during live performance

No matter what sort of lighting rig you’re using there are a few basic techniques for making the performers look great onstage with your lighting:

  • Lights should change at major changes in each song so you need to anticipate what is going to happen next onstage.

  • Lighting changes should happen during chorus, verse or song section changes.

  • If the music is frenetic and fast paced, you should reflect this in the light by quickly jumping from one lighting state to the next.

  • If the music is slow or sad you should change the lights to match and at a slower pace.

  • Your job is to enhance what is going on onstage so listen to the music and respond (consider, what is the emotional impact of this song? What is the singer trying to say?).

Check out our toolkit guide on affordable basic lighting for small venues.

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