Updated: May 20, 2022
When I first started creating lighting scenes, I often struggled to find direction. But that was 10 years ago and these days I feel like I’m brimming with ideas and fun strategies to try (even if they don’t always turn out the way I intended them to.) So what changed? Here are a few good strategies to get your creative juices flowing:
1. Listen to the mix
Have you ever started programming a song only to get stuck in a directionless void or lack of inspiration? When it happens, try listening to the mix! Get a set of headphones out and try to pick out what part of the instrumentation is getting the spotlight. All good songs are the product of writing, tracking, mastering, and mixing. Mixing music is an art form in and of itself. It’s a careful balancing act of making sure the instrumentation and vocal (if applicable) are gelled together to form a cohesive and compelling presentation. But that doesn’t mean that each instrument or melody gets equal representation. Part of mixing is choosing which parts of the music should get more presence than others. If you ever feel like you don’t know what to program, let the mix be your guide! Is there a particular synth or lead guitar that’s really sticking out to you in the mix? Then there’s a good chance that lead is also what the artist felt would really connect with the audience. Try programming to that instrumentation specifically. How does that instrumentation make you feel, and what does it sound like? Try coming up with a scene that best represents that one particular lead, as opposed to trying to make a scene that will encompass the entire mix.
2. Program the drums!
Can’t find the lead or anything compelling in the mix? Then it’s officially time to cheat! Programming lighting to synchronize with the drums and percussion is basically “cheating” because it’s the quickest way to get a compelling look started without knowing anything about the music. It only takes a drum and light to create an incredibly powerful experience for the viewer. An added benefit of programming lighting to drums is the inherent repetition. If you can come up with one compelling bar of lighting commands, you might be able to simply copy + paste that for a whole verse or chorus. The best lighting design isn’t necessarily always trying to reinvent itself… the best lighting design follows the music!
3. Goof Around
So you’ve tried it all and nothing seems to be working 🤔 but have you tried goofing around with the parameters? No seriously… forget about the music for a second and just play around with the fade on/off times, strobe setting, and colors! You’d be surprised at how many brilliant scenes you’ll stumble upon if you just get immersed in the parameters and try to make something “out of the norm.” Try combining colors that might seem garish or ugly at first. Try a ridiculously small or large fade on/off time. If you discover something cool, save it! The next time you’re out of ideas you can easily revisit your saved scenes for inspiration.