Music Visualizer for Live Performances

Introduction: Music Visualizer for Live Performances

In this instructable, I will explain the system that I have set up to produce a real time, music/beat controlled visualizer that is projected behind a live band. The photos here are from a prep run I just finished in my backyard, but I may get to put this up at a show soon and pictures and hopefully video of that will be published here if I can get it.
Heres video of the visualizer running on the front of my house to give you an idea of what it is.

Step 1: Gather Materials

To pull this off you will need:

- A windows laptop, with Winamp and Milkdrop (included in the winamp download)
Ideally: something fast with dedicated graphics
I use: a Lenovo Thinkpad T61, not quite hefty enough but works kind of, again if you don't want it to crash in the middle of a show you'll need a fast computer, I'd say at least 2ghz preferably faster and if you want smooth video you'll need a graphics card with 8 or 10 mb of dedicated memory (you can find more on system specs in the software documentation links on the last step)
- A projector
Ideally: almost anything will do, as long as its bright and of reasonably high resolution, Remote is very good to have but not completely necessary
I use: A Sharp Notevision XG-C55X with the short-throw wide angle lens
- Microphone
Anything that will pick up the beat of the music will work, a shotgun mic for a camcorder would be perfect
I use: a regular old microphone
- Microphone Stand and boom arm
Needs to be sturdy and well weighted
- Amplifier and spare battery
Nothing big or fancy, just enough to pump the mic up to a strong line level input for winamp to use
- Tools
Screwdrivers and a knife should be all you need to fix any little hiccups with any cable or the mic stand, a flashlight will come in handy cuz it will be dark and you will need to see
- Clipboard, pens, paper, post-its
Clipboard makes you look legit, write down all you winamp shortcuts and presets here for reference, post-its on the laptop for frequently used keys
- Tape
To cut the edges off the projection and hold cables in place
-Various other connectors and adapters
nothing in the little baggie is used in the setup described here, but bring along extra parts and little bits for on the fly configurations and emergency set-up changes

- VGA/audio cable
A long (mine is 100FT) VGA cable with built in 3.5mm audio, video MUST be high quality, audio is less important here but if you're going to invest in a long, expensive cable you may aswell get one you'll be able to use for something else
- miniphone cable
3.5mm audio extension cable, again audio quality isn't super important but there's no reason to buy a bad one, they're cheap
- Microphone cable
XLR to miniphone cable for the microphone
- Extension cord
No brainer
- Projector power cable
 No brainer
- Laptop charger
No brainer

- Laundry sack full of clean white sheets
most clubs and other live music venues will be mostly matte black, you may need to pin up something to project onto
- Thumb tacks
to hang the sheets
- Rubber bands
for cable management
- Ipod
To test visualizer and audio cables, record the band during the event, apps if you get bored

Step 2: Projector Connections

One cable will run from the laptop to the projector carrying video to the projector and audio from the laptop, this is the VGA audio combo cable. The VGA goes from the laptop's monitor out to the projector's computer input. The audio goes from the microphone input on the laptop to the miniphone cable, which runs to the amplifier.

The projector power cable is plugged into the extension cable which is run offstage to an available power outlet.

In the previous step I mentioned that a remote is good to have, I do not have the remote to my projector as I picked it up second hand but if you have access to it a remote is super helpful for turning the projector on or off during a show without interfering with the band, if something goes awry wile the band is playing, like your computer crashing, you can't go up on the stage to turn the projector off until the band finishes which means you'll have to leave whatever default screen your projector gives (the sharp notevision logo in the next step for me) up on the wall until you can get on stage or the projector shuts down automatically. NOT good.
A projector dowser would also come in handy but is waaaay out of my budget... perhaps I'll have to build one myself? ;)

Step 3: Tape the Lens

I use a few strips of tape over the projector lens to soften the edges of the projection and hide any surrounding boxes or windows. Lay the tape across the lens bezel but don't let it stick to the glass!

Step 4: Audio Setup

The milkdrop visualizer is set up to use audio from the line input of the laptop to power the video. A microphone held up to the live sound reinforcement (PA) speakers by the microphone stand is amplified by a small amplifier, the audio quality of this amplifier is not terribly important, all that matters is that milkdrop can pick up the beat of the music. In my setup the audio over the VGA cable is pretty noisy anyway, so higher quality amplification would be wasted.

Step 5: Laptop Connections and Software

VGA to monitor output, 3.5mm to line input, power cord to the wall! 

This ones important. Winamp is a free open source music player. Get it here:
when you download winamp, make sure you don't uncheck milkdrop, which is our visualizer.

The full documentation for milkdrop is available here:
But I'll highlight the basics for this application right here.

First set winamp to use line in, to do this strike CTRL+L (open location) and type in "linein://" then hit play. Next open up milkdrop by pressing CTRL+K to pull up the list of winamp visualizers, select milkdrop 2. Once you have milkdrop open put it in fullscreen by pressing ALT+ENTER. Thats the basics of it!

Here are the keyboard shortcuts I use most often, the whole list can be found in the milkdrop documentation.
            BACKSPACE: return to previous preset
            SPACE: transition to next preset
            H: instant Hard cut (to next preset)
            R: toggle random (vs. sequential) preset traversal
            L: load a specific preset (invokes the 'Load' menu)
            scroll lock: lock/unlock current preset 
            Y: enter custom message mode
                ##: load message ## (where ## is a 2-digit numeric code (00-99)
                    of a message defined in milk_msg.ini)
                *: clear any digits entered.
                DELETE: clear message (if visible)
                F7: re-read milk_msg.ini from disk
            CTRL + T/Y: kill song title and/or any custom messages

I won't go over how to configure presets or custom messages here, that could be several instructables. Milkdrop has a TON of features like sprites and completely configurable presets and all sorts of nifty stuff. If you're interested in using milkdrop for this or any other application then go check it out.

Step 6: I Think Thats It?

Well I think that covers most of it! Please comment if I missed anything or wasn't clear enough on any of the steps.



- home
- documentation
- preset authoring guide


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    Great idea man! I didn't know you can drive winamp/milkdrop from an external sound source...
    I have a projector I take to parties but I normally run a DVD of graphics on it.
    I have a party next weekend with DJ's, I'm going to try a direct line-in.


    12 years ago on Step 6

    This is genius! I think I'll be trying this set up with my band. Thanks for taking the time to put this together! :D


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I've been a VJ since 1992. It cost about $10k to do something a bit more complex in some ways but without the help of realtime sound analysis and modern computers with advanced visualizer software. We were stuck with VHS primitive mixers and processors, and Video Toasters and a giant dim CRT projector. We did and invented stuff,w hich at the time was cutting-edge. We earned quite a name for ourselves in the local and regional rave and live music scenes. There are still some very innovative things we did (and it got better when we upgraded in '98 with another $15k in primitive animation and nonlinear editing gear.) What I wouldn't have given to have this setup as one of our systems then. Part of me is jealous, even though I have the gear and knowledge now to do what you have done, and a few hard-learned&earned tricks up my sleeve. :) . But part of me glows with pride to see an artform I helped to pioneer becoming available to more people, and becoming the norm in live entertainment rather than just a curiosity like it was when I started. And I say, give everyone an easel, a canvas, and a palette to paint 21st-century-style with. Enable anyone with the desire and talent to express their visions and dreams. Welcome to the new millennium, and rock on! (And you ain't seen nothin' yet - just wait to see what the next few years bring, with folks like this guy having more and more access to what was once sci-fi and was for decades out of reach for most). And emerging technologies will be a whole new level in self-expression and interactivity. The glass wall between the stage and the audience is being etched away at a rapid pace. Warhol's 15 minutes (and the chance at more) are already real, and growing. Rock it out hardcore, deathfromabove. You are part of a new breed. As are many of the people on this site. It has been in the hands of big corps for far too long to innovate. But these are the days of the re-emergence of the backyard innovators. With the help (but not the cooperation) of megacorps , we have cutting/burning laser pens, micro video projectors, and more computing power and storage in our pocket communications/multimedia computers (we call them "phones" - LOL) than an entire government supercomputing center I apprenticed at in1980 had. You can even buy or make a brainwave-sensing device for your computer (guess what my 1st instructable might just be:) for under $200 and with training, control your computer with only your mind. CwhY


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks very much!!! This setup is far from great, and I've since upgraded from Winamp to NuVJ.... but this was fun and i love that it worked so well!


    12 years ago on Step 3

    could you show pictures of what you mean by 'softing the edges' with tape... A pic of before tape and a pic of with tape, cuz I'm not sure why one would need the tape.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    The second picture on the third step shows exactly this. The one hard side where you can see the edge of the projection is what it would look like without tape, the other three sides that blend into the wall are what it looks like when its taped