An input list should include every instrument, DI, and vocal that’s part of your stage set-up. Here are some tips to help you put together an effective input list with minimal headache.
In “Set yourself up for success with an accurate stage plot,” we offer advice on how to craft an effective stage plot to help the sound crew dial everything in for your band. Another key resource that will help your engineers set the proverbial and literal stage is an input list, a detailed document that spells out exactly what pieces of gear need to be miked and plugged in, as well as monitor and stand needs for your band.
Compiling a list of every in and out your band needs is a highly useful endeavor. As veteran sound engineer Dave Loop says, “The input list is huge for me when it comes to working with bands and live sound. It lays the foundation for the entire stage layout. It lets me easily decide on microphones, direct inputs, and stands. And when I look at an input list and a stage plot together, I can usually tell right away if something isn’t jiving.”
Here are some tips to help you put together a maximally effective input list with minimal headache.
An input list looks like… a list
Input lists aren’t slick-looking documents – and they don’t need to be. They exist to present technical info, normally in a basic spreadsheet format, so it’s organized and easy to read. Check this out for a reference.
Though the details differ, these lists follow a similar pattern — a few vertical columns that include basic categories of info like channel number, the name of the instrument, the type of microphone or direct input box needed, any outboard gear or special signal routing that needs to happen, the type of stand needed (if any), whether wall power is needed, monitor details, and any other special notes for the sound team.
To get started on an input list of your own, open up a document in Excel or another spreadsheet application and number your horizontal rows, starting with 1. Put in the appropriate headers on each column, as per the examples above, and you’re ready to add your key info.
Know what to include — and where to start
Input lists should include every instrument, every DI, and every vocal, says Loop. As advised in our recent stage plot post, if you’re not sure what inputs each instrument or musician needs, ask your bandmates. There may be instrument-specific input or miking details you may never have expected.
When it comes to ordering your list, Loop recommends “starting with the beat of the heart. The rhythm section.” If your band has a drum kit, here’s the order Loop suggests:
|Rack Tom 1
|Rack Tom 2
|Overhead Mic LEFT
|Overhead Mic RIGHT
Think in eights
“Most mixing consoles that sound engineers will be using for live shows are broken down into layers that are eight channels each,” says Loop, “so I like to keep my inputs laid out in those eight-channel groups. Once I get the basic foundation of the drum kit, I start building the wall of sound out of vocals, keys, and whatever else is included.”
For bands that have drums, bass, guitar, horns, and vocals, for example, Loop recommends starting with an eight-channel group for drums as described above, and then having guitar and bass inputs grouped together in channels 9 through 16, 17 through 24 for horns, and 25 through 32 for vocals.
Mind the mics
In the “microphone” column of your input list, give some indication of what type of microphone you prefer for each instrument or vocal. This could be as detailed as specifying that you want your floor tom to have a Sennheiser e604 or as simple as simply saying “dynamic” or “condenser.” Again, whatever preferences and info you can communicate to your sound team ahead of time via your input list, the easier it will be for your engineers to dial in a stage, set-up, and overall sound that you’ll be comfortable with.
When it comes to microphones — and DI boxes — let your sound team know if you need 48-volt phantom power to make the devices work. “A lot of specialty microphones, pickups, and DIs require 48v phantom,” says Loop, “and a lot of times, the performer just doesn’t tell us it’s needed. Usually we can ask or figure it out quickly, but it’s a good thing to have on the input list from the start. It saves us time and is good for us to know as we are setting up our channels on the mixing console.”
Think about monitors
When it comes to loading in, setting up, and sound-checking, it can save you considerable time to include on your input list which instruments and inputs need to be fed to which monitors. If your guitarist wants to hear backing vocals loud and clear in his monitor but your lead singer finds the harmonies too distracting, make a note of it in the “monitor” column. Similarly, if everyone wants to hear bass in their monitors except for the bass player (who happens to be standing right in front of the amp), indicate that as well.
Include stand details
Microphone stands come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so if you know your keyboardist needs a tall boom stand for her vocal mic and your guitarist wants a pair of small boom stands to mic his vintage amps, put that in the “stands” column of your list. Do you need three claw-style mic holders for the toms on your drummer’s kit? Include it on the list. Details like this will help your sound team assemble the right hardware ahead of time so you’re all dialed in come setup and sound check.
Do what you can
“When it comes to input lists, there’s no one right way to do it, so just do your best,” says Loop. “Everybody screws up on details sometimes, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. And try to remember that not all engineers are grumpy sound guys. As a matter of fact, many of us are eager to be on it, and any help, especially in the form of a good input list, is greatly appreciated.
“Get the input list as close as you can. It’s just a guide, but if a band can provide us with a great input list, a sound engineer can pretty much have the stage ready for them the minute they walk through the door.”
Do you have any further tips on how to put together a solid input list for your band? Tell us in the comments below!
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.