For many of us, it may seem too early to be thinking about Christmas and the holiday season. But that’s not the case not for Scott Davis, who’s been preparing for months. Why? Because Scott Davis is one of the few, the brave, the talented who put on an elaborate, synced music and light shows on their property for all of us to enjoy.
I had the opportunity to interview Scott about what it takes to pull off a synced-light holiday display, and what you can look forward to this year if you visit the Davis home. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to want to visit—both at Christmas and Halloween.)
FresYes: What made you decide to start going all out at your home for Christmas?
Scott Davis: Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved lights. During the holiday season, my brother and I would spend hours planning how we were going to decorate our house. After getting married and buying a house of my own, I continued the tradition of decorating my house to the limit.
I was initially inspired by a video posted by electrical engineer Carson Williams, who set his Christmas lights to the song “Wizards in Winter” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2005. At that point, however, we couldn’t afford the hardware required to do an animated display.
How many years have you been doing these displays, and how did you learn how to do it?
My first year animating my lights was in 2016, where I synchronized 7,800 lights to 16 songs. Our 2018 display will be our third. When I initially began looking into it, I was able to get assistance from several people that run similar displays. The Light-O-Rama community is also very helpful (Light-O-Rama is the company that makes the controller, hardware, and software for my display).
At what point in the year do you have to get started working on your display?
Putting on a display like this takes a lot of time, and I have to plan ahead. By the time July came around this year, I had already finalized my song list for 2019 (this year’s song list was done last summer). I already know what lights I will be adding to my 2019 display, and I started doing the actual programming of this year’s display back in February. I hope to finish by mid-October. The lights go up during mid-October, so I have ample time to test and adjust my programming until everything is just right.
What does it really take to pull it all off?
Time, money, and patience. Almost every feature on my house is decorated with four colors of lights—red, white, blue, and green. The individual strings are zip-tied together to keep it looking uniform, which takes time. We buy bulk wire and plugs and make all of our extension cords to length, which saves money, but also takes time.
Our 2018 display will have almost two miles of extension cord! At the core of everything are the controllers. Each one controls 16 channels (think of a channel as a string of lights). For the 2018 show, I will be using 16 controllers because of the number of channels I have, and it will have somewhere between 25,000 and 26,000 lights.
The programming software is very user-friendly, but it also takes time. I spend hours listening to the music, visualizing in my head what the lights might be doing, taking notes, then I sit down with the software and start programming, which takes me between three and four hours per minute of music.
I then spend additional time playing it back, getting feedback from my wife, and making adjustments, before considering a song “done.” Of course, I also do additional testing once the lights are up and make even more adjustments. Before the show is viewed by the public, the programming must be perfect.
Of course, in order to run the show we must also get the lights up, which can take a lot of time as well. Last year, a good friend of mine assisted me and it took the two of us nine hours to get everything set up. The setup requires testing every string of lights to make sure they’re working, running the extension cords, hanging the lights, staking some things down so they don’t blow over, and testing the lights again to make sure each string of lights is plugged into the correct channel on the controllers.
This year I have additional lights, so it will probably take a bit longer to get everything set up. Like many things, the key is being very organized and taking your time so that everything is set up properly.
Your display takes an incredible amount of time and dedication to make happen! What do you hope people will take away from seeing your home?
Our lives today are filled with stress—some of our own making, some not. When I look at Christmas lights (whether at my house or another’s) the beauty of the lights and music provides a much-needed distraction and, for a few minutes, I can simply enjoy the view as if I were a carefree child again. It is my hope that those who view my display have the same experience, being able to forget about their worries for just a little while, and experience nothing but pure child-like happiness.
Halloween is also a big deal in your neighborhood. Tell us about that.
Last year we were startled by how many people came into our neighborhood for Halloween, and how many houses decorated. We went through 300 pieces of candy in just over an hour.
This year, our Halloween display will feature five songs. We’ll run the Halloween show from 6-8 p.m. starting on Friday, Oct. 26. The final night will be Halloween night, where we will start the show at 6 p.m. and it will run until we are out of candy!
That leads me to my next question. What should we know about opening night?
We will begin our Christmas show the Monday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 19). Our show runs every night from 6-10pm through New Year’s Eve. Those who want to learn a bit more about how everything works can show up at 5:40pm, where I will be giving a short talk about the hardware and software driving the show!
For opening night, we will be having a free raffle to win your very own miniature Christmas tree (like the ones we use in the show) with 400 lights and your choice of colors! We will also be joined by a Bobby Salazar’s taco truck. The raffle and taco truck will be available between 6pm and 8pm (the entire event goes until 10pm). You do need to be present to enter the raffle, but you do not need to be present to win.
What else would you like readers to know that I haven’t already asked?
If you are seriously considering looking into doing an animated display for your own home and need some pointers, please contact me through our website and I’d be happy to show you how everything comes together. You can also watch our entire 2017 light show if you’re interested in seeing what we’ve done in the past (http://tinyurl.com/davislights2017). We hope to see you soon!
Keep up with the Davis family light adventures and share your kudos and compliments for all their hard work on behalf of all of our enjoyment on their Facebook page. And be sure to stop by and see the 2018 show on opening night, Nov. 19, 2018!