The Best Lighting Software for Churches – Lightkey Review
Are you looking for lighting software for your church that's budget friendly and easy to use without compromising on power and reliability?
If you are, then Lightkey is the software for you and your church.
For the past couple years, I was using myDMX 2.0 and then 3.0. It’s a Mac and PC based software, it's easy to use, it's budget friendly and it has automation features.
However, over the past couple months, it’s been glitching on my team and I like crazy. The one main glitch that we continued to see time and time again was that when we're running the software on our Mac, the CPU usage in our activity monitor was skyrocketing.
During our rehearsals and worship services, the computer running this software was starting to lag like crazy which was really frustrating for the volunteers and for myself. I tried to do a ton of research to figure out how I could troubleshoot this problem, and I think it had something to do with the midi automation. However, I couldn’t find a lasting solution so I decided to make the jump to a new software.
As I looked for a new software to replace myDMX 3.0, I had some criteria that it had to meet before I bought it.
Stable and reliable
We can't have the software glitch in the middle of a worship service and then have all the lighting scenes go haywire.
When I say "budget friendly" I mean less than a $1,000. Ideally, less than $500.
I don't think software needs to be free because that means there's no development and support going into it. I'm not a big fan of open source software because often it's confusing, takes forever to figure out and there's lots of weird glitches and bugs you have to deal with. I'm willing to pay at least a couple hundred bucks if something is supported, it's reliable and it's just going to work.
User friendly and intuitive
I don't know what it is about lighting software over the past years, but they all seem really confusing when you look at the software. The user interface looks like the cockpit of a jumbo jet. It can get pretty frustrating especially in our church context when we have volunteers who aren't professionally trained. We need it to be super intuitive for them and we don't want them to have to get a professional lighting degree to run lights for our worship gathering.
At our church, we're small, we don't have a huge tech team so we automate our lighting changes. This is really cool when you use Ableton Live to send cues so I can automate light changes throughout our songs, and we can create seamless transitions in the way that our light changes throughout the service.
Mac based software
The world of lighting control has evolved and you can run software directly from your computer. That’s really good news for worship pastors like me who lead portable churches–the less hardware, the better.
I know there's a lot of great PC based software out there, but I prefer running all Macs. For my team, it's better to keep things all Macs all the time.
I’ve also realized that when software is developed for both Mac and PC one of them usually gets the short end of the stick.
It’s also important for us to have an all Mac ecosystem because of all the midi networking that we're doing. Mac has a really powerful, stable midi network app that makes it easy to connect any Macs and set up automation.
I got on Google, searched "lighting software for Mac," and the first result I saw was the Lightkey app. As I browsed their website, I was super impressed.
I downloaded it for free to check out the user interface before buying a license, and I was super impressed. To make sure it was as great as I thought it was, I also searched the Lightkey app in various worship ministry Facebook groups to see what type of experience people were having. Everything I read was positive. People loved it.
I was quickly sold on this app. I told our pastor about it, he approved it, we purchased a license for the app, we purchased our USB to DMS dongle that's compatible with the app to be able to plug it into our lighting system, and we were up and running.
First, buy Lightkey software. Like I already said, you can download the software for free, but you'll have a very limited version of the software. Still, you'll be able to experience it enough to see whether or not you like this type of user interface.
If you like the software, you’ll need to buy the license that’s right for you.
They have different tier licenses priced at annual subscriptions. It starts at $69 for 256 channels of DMX. That may work for a lot of churches with smaller lighting systems, but the preferred selection for my church and a lot of people out there is the 512 DMX channels subscription which is $99 per year. That may seem a little bit pricey, but in my opinion it's worth it because you're investing into a software that's well supported, and it's going to be continually updated and made better over time.
Once you purchase a license, you're going to receive your license code. Enter it into the software and it's ready to go. The cool part is that the license code can be deactivated from a computer if you need to move it to another one.
Then you’ll want to purchase the USB to DMX adapter. This makes it so that your computer can send the DMX signal to all of your lighting fixtures.
At our church, we purchased the DMX King Ultra DMX Micro. It's super compact with USB on one side and DMX on the other.
Because our Macbook pro is a newer one, I also had to get the Rankie USB C to USB adapter.
Before we jump in to setup (which is really easy and intuitive), I want to say that a great part about this software is that it's super efficient, doesn't suck up a bunch of CPU power or RAM so you could run this lighting software on the same computer you have ProPresenter on. That's how I’m going to run it at my church.
1. DMX Patching
The first step is to set up your DMX patching. This is where you tell Lightkey what light fixtures map to which DMX addresses.
The software already has a ton of lighting fixture profiles built into its library so you can just search for whatever lighting fixtures you have in your church and then drag those on to the patch bay.
Then you’ll want to adjust the Visualizer to match your stage. This is a great feature that allows you to see your light scenes, make edits and design your lighting cues at home when you're not plugged into the lighting system at church.
When I’m in my office, I can design all of our lighting cues and know exactly how it’s going to look when Sunday comes. It only took me a couple minutes to add in the trusses and this rectangle to symbolize our wide screen that we project our lyrics and videos on.
This is our stage represented on the computer screen. The big rectangle in the center is where the lyrics appear.
This is the actual setup on Sunday mornings. You can see the screen and trusses are in the same spot as they were on the visualizer.
The next step is to start building your lighting scenes and presets. Click the little plus icon on the top right hand section of the software (above all the folders) and start setting it up.
I went through and created lighting scenes for our house lights, our stage spotlights, our different LED backlighting, various color combos and some truss warmers (the lights that shoot straight up through the trusses).
After you’ve built out all your presets, you’ll want to build your control panel.
This is the interface that your lighting volunteers, tech team or you are going to use to control the lights during the service. What's really cool about this control panel is that it gives you the ability to create buttons and faders and it's all virtual.
You can assign whatever presets you want to those buttons or faders, and I’ll walk you through how I did it.
Look at the picture again and notice on the far left of the control panel that we have the “Master” fader. That just brings all the lights up or down. We don't really ever touch that one.
Next to it, we have a collection of our house lighting cues. We have our House Blackout cue, our House Full cue, our House Pre-Service cue, Worship cue and Message cue.
To the right of that, we have our collection of Spotlight cues. That’s just our front-lighting onstage that control two ellipsoidal lights which light both the band members and our pastor. We don't have many scenes for this, just our Band settings, our Speaker settings and a Blackout.
The next bank of cues is a fun one. This is where we control all of our LED lighting that we have. We have eight LED wash lights that are mounted on the top of the trusses, and then we have four of them that are truss warmers shooting light up through the trusses.
I went through and I created different buttons that you simply click on and cue up the appropriate LED lights.
My LED light cues are set up in this software so that only one of those cues is enabled at a time. This prevents any weird overlapping of colors and it makes it really simple for operation whether we’re operating it manually from the computer or if I'm cueing these scenes from Ableton Live.
On the far right we have two little faders that control the fan and the amount of haze for our haze machine.
What's cool about the different groups of lighting cues that we've created in this control panel is that they can be layered on top of one another. That means our house lights and then our front lighting and our LED backlighting can all be controlled independently.
We don't have scenes that control all of them at once. Instead, we send separate cues to our LED lights, separate cues to our front lighting or separate cues to our house lighting. This workflow worked really well for the way that we cue lights throughout our worship gathering.
The final step for me is automation. They've made it incredibly easy to set up lighting automation if you're using software like Ableton Live to cue your lights and lyrics and other production elements in worship.
Pull up the “External Control” Menu and tap the “Midi Controllers” button.
Then make sure Light Key is receiving midi cues from the network session that you're sending midi cues to from your Ableton Live computer.
Then, when that midi mapping is set up, you go to the different cues you've created in the control panel, right click on a cue, go down to external control, and then simply click the add trigger button.
The software will then start listening for midi trigger. As soon as you send over that midi note, it's gonna map it.
If you couldn’t already tell, I really think you're really going to enjoy this software for your worship ministry, and I highly recommend it. This gets Jake's stamp of approval. I can’t cover everything Lightkey can do, but this should give you a solid understanding and a great look at what it could do for your worship ministry.
So experiment with it, let me know if you run into any hiccups or have any questions and I may create more videos and articles covering how to get even more out of this software.
To learn more about implementing the latest technology for your worship ministry, check out Worship Leader School where you'll find in-depth, reliable, step-by-step courses, a community of worship leaders and office hours with me to get feedback and advice.
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