Arduino lighting for stage performance

Hi guys,

I'm totally new to all this, so please excuse my naivety. I'm a solo acoustic singer/songwriter and play a very dynamic style. I have a big gig coming up and bought the equipment to build a sound-responsive stage.

I aim to take an aux out from the mixing desk to the arduino uno and use that, in conjunction with the MSGEQ7 (and TLC5940 maybe?) to create shadow play from light boxes on the stage. I've been researching LED spectrum analysers, light organs etc., but nobody seems to have tried to use this setup for stage design. I don't simply want flashing lights to the beat, but ideally would have about 16 LEDs dotted about the stage in light boxes to move with the frequencies and amplitudes of the performance.

Could you point me in the right direction, suggest links to similar projects or just tell me this is too ambitious? I'd really appreciate the help.


I think you can do this! I've built two "big" DJ lighting effects.

Use your imagination & creativity and program-in some randomness & variability to keep things interesting. Any single effect can get boring after a minute or two. Just for example, maybe make the red LED respond to the bass for awhile, then make the green LED respond to the bass. Or, use RGB LEDs an change the colors around.

I'm not sure if "standard" LEDs will be bright enough when "dotted around the stage". One of my projects is an 8-foot "VU Meter" and standard "high brightness" LEDs are bright enough with 24 LEDs in a row.

I've never used the MSGEQ7, but it's a good-easy way to get the frequency & volume information into the Arduino.

I haven't used the TLC5940 either, but I've used a similar Maxim chip. The advantage of these serially controlled chips is that you can daisychain them to drive almost as many LEDs as you wish with only 3 control lines. (I have six 8-channel LED drivers for 24 LEDs on each left & right meter.)

If you need more light, you'll need special drivers for "high power" (1W or more) LEDs, or solid state relays for incandescent lights. The good news is, if you build the thing and then want more light, you can use the same basic Arduino setup and software.

Just to give you some ideas, here's what I've done:

I don't use any frequency detection for my effects. I just use loudness and some crude beat detection. I keep a 20-second moving average of the loudness to auto-calibrate the sensitivity. I also automatically switch between the 5V and 1.1V ADC references depending on loudness. This works well with line-level (Aux) signals and I don't have a manual sensitivity control. (Whenever it switches between the 1.1V & 5V references the data in the moving-average array has to be scaled up or down.)

My VU Meter effect randomly reverses (where louder is down) and it randomly switches between the normal bar-graph mode and dot-mode. In the dot-mode, the number of dots (LEDs) representing the loudness is randomly selected. Besides the VU meter effect, there are 6 more chasing, sequencing, blinking, flickering effects with all kinds of random (and non-random) patterns. I consider this giant VU meter to be a "special effect", and even with all the various modes I think it can get boring.

I also built a 4-channel AC lighting controller. It has the same basic modes as the VU meter effect, except there are 4-channels instead of 24, and it's mono instead of stereo. I can plug-in 8 colored 100-Watt flood lamps (4-colors), or in another configuration I plug-in 16 30-Watt white floods that I arrange in various configurations (in a straight line, in a square with 4 lamps on a side, etc.) With the colored floods, I consider this a "main effect" that lights-up the whole dance floor and it can run all night without getting too boring.

Thank you! That's some great advice. I'll have to digest it all and do some more research. Luckily I'm not too worried about things getting "boring" as I don't actually want them to be too busy - they're just there to create ambience while I play and sing. I'll update on my progress when it gets going. THanks!!

Sparkfun has the MSGEQ7 on a breakout board HERE:

Kid in one of our workshops made a fibre-optic / LED Mohawk hat with this that flashed in the Disco...

That MSGEQ7 looks pretty cool. I was talking to a Bee keeper who wanted to use an Arduino to detect an oncoming bee swarm using microphones. I couldn't help him at the time, but I wonder if this chip would have made his job easier? Maybe.

My recollection of what bees sound like is a dominant frequency (maybe 400 Hz?) with lots of harmonics. Maybe it sounds different when the sound is coming from behind your head with wind in your ears?? :slight_smile:

A Fast Fourier Transform can extract the relative strengths of different frequencies from a sound sample. See:

I bet you could get a "WingPrint" of a typical few bees and do a correlation to an incoming sample..

Sounds like something I´m in the making of. Though my project is more of the "flashing lights to the beat" :wink: I play a Minimoog Voyager in a Kraftwerk-like band and I want something that´ll give the songs different visual touch. And I´m also completely new to Arduino and programming, so I´ll definitely be checking in on your project, it sounds really interesting!