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Fatima and Alexander Nut peforming at Cake Wines Cellar Door, Redfern. Image courtesy of Cake Wines Cellar Door.


Affordable, basic, live lighting for small venues

You'll Discover:

  • Why it’s a bad idea to rely on venue ‘house’ lighting.
  • The best low-cost setup.
  • Lighting live performance when you don’t have a permanent stage.
  • Basic light colour combinations to match event mood.
  • Lighting health and safety.

Even when your venue’s house lights looks great, live performance needs more. Applying some basic and low-cost lighting helps separate the ‘performance area’ from the general patron area - which is especially important if you don’t have a stage. Good lighting enhances the vibe of the performance, shifts punters moods, and diversifies your venues atmosphere.

This guide assumes you that you won’t have a lighting person (operator), you want a flexible DIY lighting rig that you can adapt to suit various performance styles, and you may need to ‘set and forget’ your lights for the event. Or that you're interested in picking up some tips on improving your basic lighting rig.


For small performance areas/stages

RGB LED Lights

Our advanced stage lighting guide describes other light types, but for many venues, a good set of LED lights are all you’ll need. LED’s are made up of a bunch of individual light globes in a single housing. They’re inexpensive, draw minimal power and the globes rarely blow. Those features make LED’s an excellent choice for small venues!

LED lights can come in single colours, but we recommend you get RBG LED lights. As you can see in the below image, they’re made of Red Blue and Green lights (hence ‘RBG’). You then adjust the mix of Red, Blue, Green lights to create other colours and make your performance area look pro.

Image of a Lixada DMX LED Stage PAR strobe. Has many small red, green and blue circular lights.
One of many RBG LED’s on the market - the Lixada DMX LED stage PAR strobe.

2-4 of above round style RBG LED lights can look great on a performance area or small stage.

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Tips when choosing LED Packs

Some things to think about include:

  • For smaller stages or performance areas up to 5x5 metres, a light pack with 4x LED RGB lights is usually enough. Get a light pack that allows them to be centrally controlled without you needing to buy a separate mixer.

  • If you don’t have a permanent stage, or you setup a performance area on the floor of your venue, consider getting an LED pack with a crossbar light stand to save money and hassles (image below). You won’t need to attach lights to the ceiling, instead place light stand in front and to the side of performance area and adjust the stand’s height. Google ‘LED stage light pack with stand’ to find models from $250+.

  • If you have a small stage (especially if it’s raised), it’s good to explore attaching lights to ceiling out front of the stage, rather than using light stands. That way you can spread them out.

  • Some RGB LED lights also include some clear white globes, so you can have a more traditional spot light option.

  • Look for models that have remote controls, and can be programmed to cycle through colours and patterns so you can ‘set and forget’.

  • Some models can be sound activated: a great idea to keep the light changes in sync with the beat of the music.

Image of a LED light set. In particular, the CR Lite Power Party stage wash package with stand.
Example LED light set with stand: CR Lite Power Party Stage Wash Package w/ Stand
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Programming lights to suit your vibe

Obviously refer to your light pack user-guide to configure them, but here’s an overview on programming lights, and tips to make it easy for bar staff to adjust. We’ll assume you don’t have a lighting operator to manually mix lights during the performance, so you need to configure your lights to run unassisted (set and forget!).

Most simple light sets allow you to pre-program different ‘Scenes’ - combinations of lights and their colour/brightness settings. Scenes can usually be stored, and manually switched during performance, or preset to automatically (and ideally, slowly) move between these scenes if you want to set and forget your lights.

Most light packs allow you to store scenes by number, so you can load them up to suit the general vibe you’re after.

The best starting point is to configure scenes on your light rig represent different moods and emotions.

Keep a list of  your lighting scenes behind the bar that references the scene number, the colour(s) it contains, and the mood. That way other bar staff or sound production can simply load up a scene that suits the performance. Without the list, you risk people setting lights incorrectly, or wiping your scenes while trying to get lighting rig to work.

Example light scene list by colour and mood - make one and keep it behind the bar.

Table outlining different lighting scenes that could apply to your venue. These include Number 1 All red for late night warm vibes, Number 2 orange and blue with clear blue light on centre stage (for lead singer) and warm orange on rest of the band and Number 3 pink for a fun pop vibe

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Colour and emotion

Colour wheel outlining different shades and options.
Refer to the colour wheel above as we explore lighting.

Setting your 4 (or more) lights to default settings of red, blue, green and yellow can look cheap, and fails to convey a vibe.

Every colour has some kind of emotion tied to it, so the colour of your lights is key to controlling venue and performance mood.

Below we’ve listed colours, the general mood they invoke in audiences, and how they represent the performer:

  • Red = Although red is often considered an aggressive colour, red stage lighting isn’t always felt like that. Red creates a classic stage vibe is flattering to performer (de-ages and smooths lines), and can feel warm to audiences.
  • Pink = Love, Light and Airy.
  • Yellow = Poppy, Bright and Happy
  • Orange = Awakening, Rootsy and Raw.
  • Green = Rootsy, Organic, Calming, Earthy, but if too bright can make people look ‘sickly’.
  • Aqua/Bright Blue = Cold, detached, but can be used to create clarity, if you’re using warmer colors around it like red.
  • Dark Blue = Water, Night-time, Calm, Sullen.
  • White = Open, Raw, Unfiltered

Of course, this is a very simplified way of sharing moods with you, and tints and combinations of colours can create all manner of mood shifts.

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

Monochromatic colours refers to a single colour used on all lights to create a strong single emotion.

Complimentary Colours are two colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel. Knowing which colours are complementary to one another can help you make good decisions. Two complementary colours work well in most situations, and allow you to mix the moods. Common examples are:

  • yellow and purple
  • blue and orange
  • red and green

Notice that complementary colours are made up of one ‘warm’ colour and one ‘cool’ colour. That balances each other out, while being distinct enough to each ‘pop’.

Image shows examples of complimentary colour wheels and combinations. It shows Modelo CMY and Modelo RYB.
Examples of complimentary colour wheels and combinations

Of course, the two colours also spill into each other to create a mix in between them on the colour wheel. So applying two colours - each across half the lights - is often enough to create a compelling lighting scene.

You can then store a number complementary two-colour scenes, and program to fade between those scenes slowly to create variety while avoiding colour clashes.


Although it’s harder to pull off, you can use three different colours in a scene. If so pick colours that create a triangle on your colour wheel.

The most common options are:

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

Adjacent Colours

For a smooth look, select colours that are next to each other (adjacent). The change from one stage to the other will be subtle, faded and more washed out.

Colour Temperature

If you want some colour variety while sticking to the same mood, use three colours of the same “temperature”. For instance, you could use three “warm” colours like red, orange and yellow for intimacy, or three “cool” colours like magenta, blue and cyan for a stark clear effect.

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Special lighting considerations

Music Victoria has created a best practice guide for venues in the state of Victoria on a range of key topics, including OH&S and lighting equipment.

In it they state;

“Any lighting equipment likely to reach high temperatures should be guarded to prevent overheating. In addition, certain forms of lighting have the potential to adversely affect the health and safety of people in your venue:

  • Strobe lighting can induce epileptic seizures. Flicker rates of four flashes per second or fewer are recommended and all strobes should be synchronised when more than one strobe is used.
  • Exposure to UV light can harm the eyes and the skin, particularly among people taking certain prescription drugs. You should avoid using UV lights wherever possible and if they must be used, take steps to minimise harm, such as enclosing the source of the light or eliminating reflection.
  • Lasers can cause serious harm, particularly to the eyes and skin. Of the five classes of lasers, only Class 1 are considered intrinsically safe and Class 2 are only considered safe in some circumstance. Class 3A, 3B and Class 4 lasers require special precautions and should not be used except under carefully controlled conditions by a trained operator.“

Check out the Pro Audio File’s guide on stage lights for a live concert.

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