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Everything about stage plans and playing live

If you want to find out more about stage plans and how playing live on a stage works technically, you can read the article below. For technical support also check our glossary

Why make a stage plan?
Ensuring a successful performance in a hall or at an outdoor festival depends on various parties. Of course a band or musician is very important, but also the people responsible for all the technical aspects of your performance, such as sound and light, are equaly important. At bigger productions, a stage manager or production leader is involved who functions as an intermediary between the musicians and the technicians.

All the parties involved are dependent of each other. It is very important to communicate what technical services must be arranged for a specific performance, because most of the time the technicians don’t know the act. It is therefore important that all the parties involved literally and figuratively speak the same language. The most important tools for this are the stage plan and the channel list.

A Rider communicates all the details and particularities of an act to the organisation. Therefore, a stage plan, channel list, catering list, backline specification, etc are all part of a rider. This stack of paper is your Rider and its goal is to prevent people from thinking that someone else will supply something or assuming others know things they don’t.

The stage people, indoors as well as outdoors, always assume a standard arrangement and situation. As a band you therefore have to be very clear about where and how you will deviate from this. For example: a drummer is always assumed to be right-handed, so if your drummer is left-handed you need to communicate this.

How to use a stage plan?
In a stage plan you indicate how your specific act is set up. Which instruments you will put on stage, where the monitors and microphones should be, and who will be using a DI. In addition to this floor plan (viewed from above), the stage plan communicates all the issues that deviate from the norm. Though improvisation has its charms, it is advisable to organise certain things beforehand. A 1.98 meters tall DJ is not happy if he has to play for three hours on a too low table. Chairs without armrests or bar chairs are also not always available.

In your stage plan do not only communicate what you are going to use, such as ‘Singer has a wireless microphone’, but also who will supply these things, such a singer will use her own wireless microphone. Some issues are agreed upon during the booking over the phone and in the contract, but it is essential to include these technical issues in your stage plan, because it will be used by other people and earlier agreements are sometimes forgotten.

It’s important to make sure that your stage plan/channel list is up-to-date. So write down the date it was printed and the version number and indicate when the last changes were made. Also make sure you carry a few extra stage plans with you during the performance. Always state the name and telephone number of your technical contact person on each page of the stage plan and channel list. If you don’t have a permanent soundman, always choose the band member that knows the most about all the instruments, including the drums.

The standard PA and monitor set-up does not consist of a CD and MD and DAT and MP3 player and SD-card and USB. So indicate which one you will be using, whether you will be bringing the equipment yourself and whether you will be operating it yourself! Also put instrumental backing tracks in the order you want them played. When the stage technicians have to do this you should make it as easy as possible for them. Avoid a situation in which they for example have to first play track 6, followed by 17 seconds of track 3 and then track 12, 7 and 4 entirely.

Some tips with regard to your stage plan
>> Indicate how many monitor groups you need, assume a situation most convenient for your band. The technicians will then translate this to the possibilities on the scene. Also concisely indicate which instrument(s) you want to hear on which monitor group (for an example, see the stage plan).

>> In your stage plan indicates where you need electricity on stage. This is often forgotten. This is especially important for extras, such as ventilators, beamers, etc.

>> It is always assumed that the drummer will bring his own drum rug! If more room than the standard drum riser (2x2) is needed, then this should be indicated.

>> If you are bringing your own light and projections or if you have specific demands with regard to lights, then indicate these clearly. If you don’t want a smoke machine to be used you also have to indicate this.

>> Indicate if you have your own backdrop (background) and also mention the measurements. Make sure you have a complete and simple system for hanging it, because one is not always available. Also accept it if you are told that you cannot or may not hang it the way you want it.

>> Unless agreed otherwise it is assumed that a DJ brings his own record player, CD player, needles (also extra needles) and mixing table. After all, these are considered to be instruments.

>> Samplers are often not mentioned beforehand, though they should, because they are considered ‘instruments’.

>> In your stage plan mention the brand name of the amplifier that you use so the technicians can take this into consideration.

The channel list
A channel list indicates how your act needs to be amplified. In other words, which microphone should be placed with which instrument and to which input channel this should correspond in the mixing table. In addition, it shows who is playing via a DI and what everyone wants to hear on their monitor. In the microphones column in the example channel list, the most common microphones are mentioned such as a SM 58 for vocals.

The standard order of the channel list is: DRUMS at the top, followed by BASS, GUITAR, VOCALS, KEYBOARDS, etc.

Some tips with regard to your channel list

>> Do you use transmitters? Try to track the frequency and mention it in your stage plan/channel list.

>> Indicate whether the guitarist plays in stereo.

>> At festivals the sound company brings microphones for the biggest gig of that day. Often there are no more microphones. Keep this in mind and therefore mention every microphone you’ll need for your performance and mention a total number.

>> Sound technicians assume a 5-piece drum set is used (three tom-tom drums, a snare drum, a base drum supplemented with a hi-hat, two crashes and a ride). If you use more than that you should indicate this because – with several bands on stage – the extra pieces of the drum set are channelled at the rear end of the channel list. The result is that you have to start all over again!

General smart tips and tricks
>> In case of several similar instruments, indicate in your stage plan where which amplifier (sort + type) should go. Especially during festivals there are sometimes many different amplifiers ready to be used and a mistake is easily made.

>> Guitar amplifiers have less ‘low’ on stage compared to the practice room, so take out some of the treble when you are on stage.

>> Where do you actually want the microphone for you guitar amplifier? Experiment with this and mark the desired spot so that also an unfamiliar soundman will immediately place the microphone on the right spot.

>> Drummers have to tune their drum set well and they have to do so often. Not only does an out-of-tune drum set sound awful, but tuning it also saves a lot of time and frustration.

>> Singers should consider buying their own microphone. Guitarists also spend thousands of euros on buying guitars and amplifiers. It is not just more hygienic than the spat-on microphone of the sound company, but can also make a difference with regard to sound.

>> If you are using an in-ear monitor make sure that there is a limiter or compressor. This decreases the chances of a soundman blasting your eardrum.

>> Beginning singers especially need to learn to know their own voice through the monitors. So learn to deal with a microphone, distance between the mouth and the microphone among other things, and take singing lessons if by nature you don’t have much power.

>> If the keyboard player uses more than 1 keyboard it may be smart to buy your own mixer. That is much smarter than 4 DIs, because that just costs channels.

>> Always ask for active DIs, because this ensures a better sound quality, especially with acoustic guitars. If necessary, buy one yourself. Good DIs, such as a Behringer, can be bought for about 45 euros.

>> Music-sheet stands are not standard supplied, so bring your own. It can be a good idea to bring laundry pins to hold the sheets, especially if you are playing outdoors.

>> If the opportunity arises, play over your own backline and set it up near the stage, but make sure it is not in the way, and do so before you are supposed to perform. This does not only work faster, you are of course also more used to your own things. However, sometimes this is not allowed for practical reasons. In such a case, remain as flexible and professional as possible and do not make a big deal of it. After all, sometimes the same, or even better, equipment is available and in the hall the difference is hardly noticeable.

>> As a band, practice playing in a different stage arrangement so that – if this occurs – it won’t be a disaster.

General considerations
>> Not sending a good stage plan beforehand comes across as amateurish. It gives the impression that the performance is not taken seriously. If you do not as yet have a good stage plan or channel list, make one for a performance in which you think the stage sound is good. If it clicks with the technician he will often be willing to help. If you do have a stage plan and channel list, then ask a technician what he thinks of them.

>> In a hall or on an outside stage a band sounds different than in a practice room. Be aware of the fact that when a separate stage mixer is used the sound from the monitors does not sound the same as the sound in a hall. Another example: say you have a cheap effects box that already starts to make noises on your 15W amplifier; know that on a big stage this will sound a lot worse!

>> A point of departure with regard to stage volume, meaning before monitor amplification, is that it should sound less loud than the vocals, but at the same time louder than the drums. This is difficult, because the guitar amplifiers should not be too loud, that will drown out the vocals on the monitors, but they can’t be too soft because then they will be drowned out by the drums. Do not touch the volume of the amplifiers after the sound check, but during the show communicate with the stage mixer with regard to the sound on your monitor. Technicians need some time to organise everything properly. So don’t be too impatient, most of the time at the end of the first number everyone will be helped and satisfied.

>> Assume that the stage technicians know all the technical and acoustical ins and outs of their own hall, or outside stage, and installation. Therefore let your soundman make use of this knowledge and not play a too dominant role during the show. The band’s permanent soundman knows the band and the hall technician knows the stage. A golden duo, wouldn’t you say? If you arrive at a festival with your own soundman and there is no time for a sound check, then let your soundman do the monitor mix on stage; this is more important for a good performance than the FOH mix. Bands with sufficient stage technique experience will prefer to do their own producing and will even want to do the FOH mix themselves.

>> If you are a supporting act you should assume that there is little time for your act and sometimes little room is available to you on stage. After all, it’s about the main act, so don’t demand too much, but think of it as an opportunity to play for an audience that by and large has not come especially for you. Outdo the main act on stage or bring the house down and the next time you will be the main act.

Not done!
>> Drinks on amplifiers: In any case be careful with drinks on stage; do not turn it into a water ballet.

>> Do not hit the drum set when the soundman is testing the drum microphones. Realise that his ears will make your sound!

>> Unplug your cables only when the soundman has turned off the channel and signals for you to do so.


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