A well-crafted stage plot – customized to the lineup and tech needs of your band – can go a long way towards setting yourself up for success once you hit the stage, especially for a multi-band event.
Whether you’re playing a one-off show at a local theater or a multi-venue international club tour, venues usually need details ahead of time about what sort of audio needs they should expect. The simplest way to communicate this vital, technical, pre-gig info is with a stage plot.
Stage plots are simple overhead diagrams that show how many musicians will be performing in your group, what gear each player uses, how everything needs to be positioned on stage, and other key details.
A well-crafted stage plot — customized to the lineup and tech needs of your band — can go a long way towards setting yourself up for success once you hit the stage, especially for a multi-band event. Here are some tips to get you started.
Use the right tools
To help you craft an effective stage plot, check out free or inexpensive programs like www.stageplot.com, www.stageplotguru.com, www.freestageplots.com, and www.mystageplan.com.
Alternately, when creating stage plots, many indie artists (me included) turn to more general-use programs like PowerPoint, CorelDraw, Gliffy, or other graphically-oriented software. When working with programs like these, use basic geometric shapes to indicate instruments, people, and gear, and make sure that everything is clearly labeled.
If you prefer it, there’s nothing wrong with drawing your stage plot by hand — just make sure that everything is clearly sketched out and labeled and that your handwriting is easy to read. Before you send a hand-drawn stage plot, give it a test run by scanning/photographing it and printing it out, just to make sure that everything will remain legible when your sound person does the same.
“I really don’t care how pretty a stage plot is,” says veteran sound engineer Dave Loop. “I would rather have a napkin sketch that is pretty accurate than a beautiful graphic plot that is off.”
Make sure your stage plot includes every piece of gear, instrument, and band member that you can think of. Try to check in with your bandmates for as many details as possible — their setups may have idiosyncrasies that you’re not aware of.
“Get the plot as close as you are able,” says Loop. “Sound engineers would like it to be perfect, but if you show that you have given a great effort, our crew will respect it. You can’t know everything about your audio setup,” he continues. “We know the band leader can be in the same situation as we are when it comes to figuring things out on the fly.”
List your inputs
Sound engineers want to know not only what gear you have and where it will be placed, but how many cables, DI boxes, and mixer channels they need to provide. To help, indicate on your stage plot whether your four vintage keyboards need mono or stereo quarter-inch DI inputs, and whether you want one or two mics on your Marshall stack. Do you need extra mono XLR inputs for a piece of outboard gear or any other special input setup for your laptop and DJ rig? Put it all in the document.
Loop recommends including monitor placement in your diagram, so your sound engineers know how many wedges or other monitors are needed, and where they should be set up in relation to the band. Does anyone on stage use in-ear-monitors? Include that information on the diagram as well.
Think about the little things
When I perform with the Michael Gallant Trio, I like to have my keyboards at roughly a forty-five-degree angle when compared to the bass player, so I make a point of visually representing this in my stage plots for the group. If you have small but important details like that — you want your music stand on your left side and not your right, you need a boom microphone stand instead of a vertical one, you do better with a wireless mic than a wired unit — note it on your stage plot so your engineer knows what to expect.
Loop has had situations where bands send their standard stage plot, but then show up, day of, with an unexpected guest artist sitting in for the second set, or an entire additional horn section. For sound engineers, last-minute additions like these can be a challenge to deal with.
Are you bringing in a local ukulele virtuoso to help with your opener, or a gospel choir to take your tunes to the next level? Make sure all relevant info makes it onto your diagram before you send it in so your engineer can prepare accordingly and avoid having to scramble to accommodate.
A simple but important consideration: be sure to include your band or artist name and contact info on the diagram. If you’re playing a festival or a complicated, multi-act show, you want to make sure your sound engineers know which stage plot is yours. And if the engineers have any questions about technical details or unexpected issues, you want them to know how to get in touch.
Keep it simple
Your stage plot is meant to communicate necessary information about your band, setup, and gear so your sound engineer can dial you in — and that’s about it. Don’t waste time making it a work of art, coming up with the perfect graphic for your vintage Yamaha DX-7, and so on. Keep everything as simple and instantly readable as possible.
Loop affirms the importance of a straightforward document. “The simple stuff really helps,” he says. “If you are a good audio guy, you can usually fill in the blanks, just using common sense.”
To see a few examples what other bands do, check out these samples:
Bump City Brass
DIY Musician’s Chris Robley also has some good tips
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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