The key to any good performance is being prepared. This doesn't just mean you should know your songs, though – another part of this process is making sure the venue knows what to expect from you. When you give a venue and its staff a heads up on what you need, the better prepared they can be and the less chance of turning someone into an "Angry Sound Guy." Many festivals request a stage plot and input list ahead of time, but it doesn't hurt to send them whenever you advance a show. This is especially true if you have specific requirements for your physical setup.
What's a stage plot?
A stage plot is literally a diagram of what your onstage setup looks like and the relative location of where everything on that stage should be.
Your stage plot should be as specific as possible. You don't necessarily need to include your water bottle on it, but the more details you can provide, the better. Does the drum set need to be stage right instead of behind the band? Does your keyboard player only set up facing a certain direction? Make sure your stage plot includes that. The locations of vocal mics, amplifiers, preferred monitor locations, and where you need outlets should all be clearly indicated and labeled.
The stage plot can also be a good place to have notes about some general monitor mixes, what certain members want in their mixes, or if they don't need certain elements in a mix at all. If the singer gets crippling stage fright because there's no reverb/delay in his or her monitor, within these notes would be the place to make that clear. For all you drummers out there, letting your sound tech know how many pieces are in your kit is also great info to have ahead of time to plan accordingly and can save headaches the day of the show. It's also helpful to know if your amp has a direct out or if you need a DI box placed somewhere.
Here's an example:
The band name and contact info for this stage plot have been removed (which you should always include, especially the name and contact info of the most tech-savvy band member), but this is a great example of a clean and clear stage plot. The preferred location of DIs, power, monitors, amplifiers, band members, and vocal mics is obvious, and there's not too much extraneous information on the plot itself. Below, as mentioned earlier, are some general monitor mix notes so that your tech can establish a baseline mix to speed up your soundcheck, and you can spend more time dialing in a great sound rather than simply getting your levels balanced.
As far as making a stage plot goes, it doesn't need to be incredibly artistic. In fact, in most cases, the simpler the better. If your stage plot involves a full-color key and is best viewed on a 14"x18" piece of paper, you've probably gone too far. Basic knowledge in most word processing programs can yield you a very functional stage plot. Something as simple and plain as this works great:
What's an input list?
An input list is a list of how many outputs you have for the band, the required mixer inputs, and the specifics involved. You need to include the outputs for everything you do that your sound tech will need to patch. This is also the place where you should indicate what type of stand mics you need to use. For example, if your guitarist sings background vocals and needs a boom stand to make sure the mic can be placed properly, that information should be included here.
Included here is the function of each input, type of mic or input, what type of stand is needed, and if there are specific outboard requirements/requests for that channel. Again, the more specific the better for what's needed on your input list. Always err on the side of too much information rather than not enough.
Also, keep in mind that your sound tech knows the venue best. If it's a 100-person venue and the sound tech tells you that you don't need the 12 channels of drum mics specified on your input list and suggests going with a four or five microphone setup, it's almost always best to defer to his or her judgment. The same goes for outboard gear and specific mic requests. Unless you travel with your own microphones or rack of outboard processing and the appropriate cables, you may not always be able to have your designated preferences. If you do travel with these things, you should definitely include that on your stage plot or input list.
In case you haven't detected a theme here yet, communication is key to avoid summoning the wrath of the proverbial "Angry Sound Guy." The more communication and information you can exchange, the better off everyone will be!
Aaron Staniulis is not only a freelance live sound and recording engineer, but also an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter. He has spent equal time on both sides of the microphone working for and playing alongside everyone from local bar cover bands to major label recording artists, in venues stretching from tens to tens of thousands of people. Having seen both sides at all levels gives him the perfect perspective for shedding light on the "Angry Sound Guy." You can find out more about what he’s up to at aaronstaniulis.com.