How to Set up Christmas Lights Synchronized to Music

Make your house the one all the neighbors drive by

a robust Christmas light display

 Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Christmas is the season for giving and cheer — and also for crushing your neighborhood under the sheer excellence of your light display. If you want to be the talk of the neighborhood and leave all passerby impressed with your home's decorations, here's how to sync your Christmas lights to music. 

Sync Christmas Lights to Music Using Philips Hue Smart Bulbs

The easiest way to sync your Christmas lights to music is to use a smart bulb like Philips Hue.

Set up an Entertainment Area

Before you begin playing music, you'll need to set up an Entertainment area via the Philips Hue app.

  1. Make sure the Philips Hue Bridge is connected and the main power is turned on to each bulb.

  2. Open the Philips Hue app on your smartphone.

  3. Go to Settings.

    An image of Philips Hue app settings menu.
  4. Tap Entertainment areas

  5. Tap Create entertainment area.

  6. Select the room (or rooms) you want to include in the entertainment area, then tap Continue.

  7. Choose the lights you want to include.

    Only color capable Hue lights will be listed.

  8. Follow the on-screen steps to position the lights according to their physical location in the room.

  9. Once you've completed this step, the entertainment area will be ready to use.

How to Sync Philips Hue Lights With Music From Your Computer

Once your Entertainment area has been created, there are a few more steps before the lights sync properly.

  1. Go to the Philips Hue website and download the Hue Sync app.

  2. Make sure you're on the same Wi-Fi network as your Philips Hue Bridge.

  3. Launch the Hue Sync app, then tap the Entertainment area at the top of the screen. 

  4. Tap Start light sync. When you do this, your Philips Hue lights will dim to almost nothing.

    An image of the Hue Sync menu.
  5. Tap Music.

  6. Select the level of intensity you want the lights to follow: Subtle, Moderate, High, or Intense. This setting controls how rapidly the lights change with the beat.

  7. Select the color palette you want to use.

  8. Open your music program of choice and play a song. The lights will pulse in time with the melody based on your previous settings.

Philips Hue bulbs are great for indoor spaces, but the company produces outdoor lights, too. However, many of these are for sidewalk and porch lighting. While they can contribute to a Christmas light display, they aren't enough on their own for a truly impressive show.

How to Sync Lights to Music With a Christmas Light Controller

A Christmas light controller will allow you to build elaborate, flashy displays, but it is a complicated, in-depth process.

You can purchase "smart Christmas lights" from outlets like Home Depot, but the lights are on relatively short strands and come at a high cost. Investing in a Christmas light controller and using traditional strands of lights may be more cost-effective in the long run.

How to Select a Controller

There are a few types of light controllers on the market, and their ease of use is directly inverse to their cost: 

  • A fully-built light controller will be the easiest to set up, but also the most expensive option.
  • A controller kit is less expensive but requires minor electrical work and a bit of know-how.
  • A DIY controller is the least expensive option, but leaves the assembly and set up in your hands.

Light Controller Software

A quick Google search will reveal dozens of different software options for controlling your Christmas light display, but we have chosen some of the most popular options:

  • Light-O-Rama: This controller software includes dozens of songs and pre-built sequences you can choose from. Setting your lights to pulse with the music is as simple as pressing a few buttons on your computer screen, but these come at a cost. 
  • Vixen Lights: Vixen is the lighting software for the do-it-yourself decorator. While the cost is negligible, you'll need to set up the entire show on your own, including the timing sequences and song choices. Vixen lays the foundation for you to work in, but doesn't hold your hand in the process.
  • xLights: xLights is a free light sequencer. If you're trying to save as much money as possible, this is the way to go. The software has an active forum community you can direct questions to and numerous video tutorials to help overcome roadblocks you may encounter along the way. 

Choose the type of controller you want and the software to power it, and you can have an impressive Christmas light display up in almost no time at all. 

The step-by-step instructions for each controller and software will vary depending on the type you choose to buy, but if you go with a pre-built controller and something like Light-O-Rama, set up should be simple.