Let me offer a recent, real life example of why sending an up to date stage plot and input list when advancing is critically important.
We had a fly date into a festival in San Francisco, with a tight window of arrival. Our window became even tighter when our flight out of LAX was cancelled, and we were bumped to a later flight, now arriving across the bay in Oakland. It was one of those moments on the road where things are out of your control, and travel is either going to work out, or it isn’t, so it’s best to simply relax. With pre-arranged ground transportation botched, the festival hustled and sent us a runner van to get us on site. With traffic from Oakland into San Francisco, we ended up arriving on site 29 minutes prior to stage time. Woof.
There is a certain due process to arriving on site at a festival. Artist check in, meeting up with the festival liaison, getting your bearings, settling into the dressing room, checking in with production, checking in with backline, loading or crossloading gear to stage, building gear, grabbing a bite to eat, potential press, using the bathroom, etc. The picture that I am trying to paint is that there are a lot of things that happen before your set, and when you arrive so close to set time, things you have done in advance become even more important.
Walking onto stage, it was as if an ethereal force had descended and backline, monitors, and mics were all placed exactly where they needed to be. How did it get to be this way? How did they know to put it like this? Allow me to introduce you to the Stage Plot and Input List.
The Stage Plot
The stage plot is a visual representation of how gear is organized on stage. What do you need to include when creating a stage plot?
- Band name – Imagine not putting your name on the plot if you are playing a festival with 100+ other bands. You want people to be able to find and utilize your plot, right?
- Date – I like to title things with the season and year. IE:Summer 2015. This allows the person receiving the plot to know that what they are looking at is current. If it is dated Fall 2012, and it’s Winter 2015, audio begins to question the validity of the plot they are looking at.
- Contact information – the production contact for your band. Your name, role, phone number, and email address should suffice. Put it right on the plot. No one wants to dig up an email to find your info.
- Names of band members – People don’t always use it, but sometimes it’s nice to have the people you’re working with for the day know your name when you are thousands of miles away from home. First name and instrument does the trick.
Ok, so the above is important in its own way, but this is the part that really matters.
- Placement of gear – use labeled shapes to show where a piece of equipment is going to live on stage. Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keys, Horns, Vocals, Doom Reverbinator, Strings, etc. Doesn’t have to be fancy; simply write it in a box, and plunk it down where it’s going to be set.
- Placement of monitors – use labeled rectangles (IE: Monitor 1, Monitor 2, etc.), and number the monitor mix. Place the rectangle in front of where the player will need their monitor positioned. On a separate page, you can include notes for the monitor engineer, as far as what a player wants in their mix.
- Placement of power – Until future technological developments arrive, we are tethered to the archaic system of “power cords” where we have to “plug in.” Wireless electricity, can you get here already? Need to plug in an amp? Need to plug in a pedal board? Need power for something else? Denote where you need to plug in on your stage plot. Oh, shit! What kind of power do you need? Are you using American or European gear? Bollocks, we haven’t the step down convertors!
- Placement of mics – Maybe you are cruising with a non-standard piece of equipment. Telling the engineer how you want a mic placed (on axis, off axis, distance, etc.) helps them work more efficiently and quickly. This means more time for your sound check or line check. Is your singer on wireless? Make it known. Need an extra long XLR? What kind of mic stand do you want? Boom? Straight? Include all of that information either on the stage plot or input list.
To be even more specific, I’ve seen people label their plots with measurements of how things should be laid out. I encourage you to do this. Someone will appreciate it. Additionally, actual photographs of your stage layout are useful and provide a true visual for those setting things up before your arrival. Keep in mind that fine tuning will be required upon arrival. These documents are simply meant to get things close.
The Input List
The input list describes to an engineer what each channel is being utilized for. In the left hand column you will see ascending numbers. These are the channels that are being used. In the middle column, you will see what is being utilized on that channel. In the right hand column you will see what microphone we have requested, to mic or DI that element. For example, input #1 is the kick drum microphone placed inside of the kick drum. We’ve asked the engineer to use a Shure Beta 91a. Sometimes the house will not have certain mics available, and you will have to be flexible, unless you are traveling with your own mic package. Further, but not included in the example above would be effects that an engineer could apply to certain channels. I’ve seen where people will specify compressors, or gates on certain channels. I tend to let the engineer do their thing, and if something is grossly inaccurate to my ear, I will tastefully let them know.
**Please for the love of God, if you are a local engineer, do not put any vocal delay in the house mix unless explicitly requested. That is the peeve of all pet peeves. I will never understand the thought process that is occurring moments before letting that delay rip-roar through the lead vocal channel. Why would you ever do that? Reverb is commonly requested, but delay… NEVER!!
Full disclosure: I am not a FOH nor a MON engineer.
What can I use to make a stage plot and input list?
There are a slew of resources available online, both free and paid, to put together both. I personally have enjoyed success using Google Draw that is available for free in Google Drive. It is simple, intuitive, and has all the options one could want to effectively create a stage plot. The examples I provided above were created using Google Draw. Photoshop is another option, but it is more complicated, and costs money. I try to use the K.I.S.S. system whenever possible. Keep it simple, stupid.
Stage Plot Pro is another option, and can be checked out here. I’ve personally never used it, but if you search stage plot in Google images, someone certainly has.
If all else fails, you can actually DRAW a stage plot. Crude, but it gets the point across and it’s better than nothing. (Photo credit: RockOnColorado.com)
As far as making an input list, any word processing software will do the trick. Simply create a table and wa-lah!
Sometimes despite sending an updated plot and input list, the engineer is looking at an ancient technical rider that has somehow made its way to them. That is the worst feeling when you arrive and see lines run to the tune of an old plot. Despite your best efforts, unintentional sabotage does occur. I like to keep a stack of correct stage plots and input lists on hand for arrival. Make it a priority to provide management and your booking agent up to date copies of your technical rider to avoid this issue. These documents are only useful if you can get them in the hands of a skilled production staff.
I highly recommend checking out Mark Workman’s book, One for the Road: How to be a Music Tour Manager. He is the one who turned me onto using Google Draw to create a stage plot, and I would be remiss if I did not give credit where credit is due. It’s a great read if you are fascinated by this subject matter, and I can’t recommend it enough.