For some time now, DJ-ing has long been as much about the show as it is about what you play or what kind of effects you throw in. You’re never going to blow minds by just hitting play and sipping a cocktail. As such and especially for mobile Djs, the standard setup has expanded to include some pretty progressive lighting gear. Guestblogger and DJ, Brian (BRIVE) shares some of his experiences and tips to help guide you through what’s out there and to elevate your show and make sure your name, as well your tunes, stick in the heads of your crowd.

The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup

First, ask yourself: Where am I Playing?

Preparation is everything. It really is. Before you even reach the venue to set up any lasers or moving heads, be clear about the space. Where’s party happening and how’s it going to happen? A living room is no club and definitely no Tomorrowland so make a plan and outline how the lighting can be placed to get the best possible effect. Think about how long your power and DMX cables are, how many you have and how many you’re going to need. I always take along extras so I’m not caught out when I need more length or a cable fails at the wrong moment.

As much variation as possible!

If you’re a mobile DJ, it’s not a good idea to rely on just a couple of moving heads, a par kit or a bunch of lasers. These are all great lighting effects but you need to make the best impression. Using a few of each will not only keep your lighting interesting but it’ll also make it look more professional. And don’t just go for moving effects. More conventional, fixed lights like Pars can be really useful for lighting walls behind the booth and can lift the rest of your lighting. You can also get really creative with DMX controlled LED strips by playing with the configuration and dimming. It sounds pretty pedestrian but can have a massive impact.

The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup

What lights fit your budget?

If you’re just starting out and don’t quite have the capital for an immense lighting rig, then you can get yourself some great scanners and combine them with Par kits. The best thing about scanners is that they are more agile and can move much faster than moving heads. The mirror inside scanners is attached directly to the motor while the ‘head’ of a moving head is usually driven by a belt, gear and motor (see image below). Scanners are also generally a lot cheaper. The downside with scanners is that, since they always have to be suspended, you don’t have too much choice in terms of placement which can be a hassle depending on the venue. With moving heads, you can suspend them, stand mount them or just place them next to your DJ setup. But moving heads can be pricey, so you’re budget might make the decision for you. In either case, both fixtures usually have the same number of functions and light output levels so there’s no fixed rulebook about which one to choose. What will really lift either effect is the addition of a smoke machine to pick out and accent the beams. This is an absolute must and I’ll elaborate on these little champs later.

The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup - The inside of a moving head

Try not to blind your audience!

What really bugs me is when I see mobile Djs that don’t include any ambient lighting (like Pars) in their setup and use nothing but super-bright, 60W moving heads to fire blinding light into the eyes of the crowd. Standing in that crowd is like being suddenly hit with the full-beam headlights of an HGV on some country road at 3am. To avoid any long-term damage to audience members, I usually go for a 30W scanner over 60W – especially if I’m prepping for a smaller venue. Also, if more light is pointing at the audience, less light is pointing at the DJ … leaving you in a blindspot, playing the dark. This even happens at events I’ve played where they’ve completely forgotten to put any spotlights on the DJ, leaving the public with no idea where or how any of your set is happening. As such, always make sure to focus some spots on yourself. By using a smoke machine, light smoke liquid and maybe a fan to dilute the smoke a little, you can create a low budget fazer/hazer to accentuate your light rays without having masses of thick smoke floating around. This also helps the audience to see your cheeky little dances and motivational hand gestures so that, maybe someone will even be charmed enough to come over and ask you to play some fat show. Doesn’t every DJ want that?

The Ideal DJ Lighting Setup

So far so good … Now throw in some DMX!

You can either keep your rig low-budget and add a DMX controller or spend a little more money and get some DMX software and an interface. This used to be way more expensive, but has become much more affordable for semi-pro mobile DJs or people starting out and the choice is constantly increasing. American DJ & Daslight, for example, have been developing DMX software for years and can help make your setup much more flexible. DMX can create really simple scenes or truly insane scenes. Scenes are like routines that can be made to react to sound and in time to BPM. The only limitation of this low/mid-budget software is that no timeline or timecoded light show function is provided, so everything does need to be triggered manually. Luckily, most of these programs are so user-friendly that it’s incredibly simple to operate and program scenes and groups of scenes quickly. All DMX software also comes with extensive libraries in which you’ll find each of your fixtures and their corresponding channel functions. I would definitely recommend at least considering this option since it really is worth every penny!

Do you have any useful tips and tricks to help create breathtaking lighting? Any lighting-related horror stories or just general annoyances? Feel free to tell us all about it in the comments below!

» Scanners
» Par sets
» Smoke Machines
» Ventilation Fans
» DMX Lighting Controllers
» DMX Software & Interfaces
» Moving Heads
» All Lighting & Effects Products
» DJ Gear & Effects
» A Buyer’s Guide to Hazers, Fazers, and Smoke Machines

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