Prepared for Kindiefest 2011
© Rudy Trubitt
Countdown to Showtime:
Three weeks before the show, you should have made your initial contact. Find out who is in charge of tech stuff at the venue. Drop them a quick email of introduction. Include your stage plot and input list (see below).
Two weeks before the show, if you haven’t heard back from the tech person, re-send your information. If you need Backline (see below) now is the time to confirm your needs with the venue or rental company. Firm up production times, load-in, sound check (if any) and performance times.
One week before the show, you should have had a discussion with the tech person at the venue, gathered details on load-in (where and when, driving directions, parking), confirmed the names and cell numbers of the actual tech staff working on the day of your show, backline list and its delivery time.
What is a Stage Plot?
The stage plot (see below) is a key part of your tech advance. It is a bird’s eye view of your normal stage setup, showing the location of drums, amps, singers, etc. You can also indicate the preferred position of stage monitors. Next to the picture of the drum kit, write the name of the drummer. Same for the other musicians. This will help the sound guy or gal call your band members by name, which makes everyone feel more comfortable.
What is an Input List?
The input list tells the sound person how many mics and direct boxes (DI) they’ll need to run your show. If you are just a singing guitar player, your input list will look like this:
- Vocal Mic on boom stand
- Guitar DI
Don’t expect that a large input list will be followed exactly. For example, when it comes to drum kits, a minimal number of mics will be used in a small venue while many more would be appropriate for an outdoor festival stage.
An important reason to provide an input list is that it can force gigs that have a totally insufficient sound system to admit this fact in advance. Otherwise, you might arrive on the day of show and find there are only two vocal mics and you need six.
Note: If your act needs wireless equipment, bring your own and mark “band provided” on input list. Occasionally, hand-held wireless microphones will be available at the gig, but never headset vocal mics, for example.
What is Backline?
Backline is not the PA! It is not mics, nor mic stands, nor loudspeakers or mixing boards. Backline is band gear: drums, guitar and bass amps, pianos, etc. If you are advancing a local gig, you will bring your own. If it is an out of town show and you are not carrying all your gear, you will need rental backline for the show. Note: In festival situations, even a local festival, you will probably use provided backline, because sharing backline among multiple acts makes set change-overs quicker.
Spec Your Backline
Create a list of the gear your act needs. Be flexible and pick brands and models that are popular because that is what the rental companies will have in inventory. Here are sample entries for guitar amp and drum kit:
- Electric Guitar amp: Fender Blues Deville 2x12 (preferred), HotRod Deville, Fender Blues or Twin.
- Drum Kit with snare and cymbals: standard DW 4-piece kit (22" kick, 14" rack & 16" floor tom & snare). 14" hi-hat, 16" light crash, 18" dark crash and 20" ride, Pref Paiste or Zildjian, 3 cymbal stands, Hi-hat and Kick drum pedal (felt mallet or combo). Drum throne.
Who Provides Your Backline?
Music festivals featuring multiple acts will usually provide backline. A small percentage of music clubs have in-house backline. If backline isn’t being provided by the gig, you’ll be dealing with a local or regional/national backline rental company; the venue can recommend one if you need a pointer.
Who Pays for your Backline?
In a festival situation, the festival should pay for it, but they will require you to pick from a list of equipment they are already renting for the headliners. If you need something specific that they aren’t already renting (a tuba?), you may have to pay for it.
In a club, performing arts center or other venue, you’ll probably have to pay unless they agreed to pay during your contract negotiations. Note there is often a mileage-based delivery fee to the backline provider, so pay attention to distances when choosing your provider.
Different Kinds of Venues
I’ve found some common differences between working Corporate shows, performing arts centers, clubs and festivals. Here are some generalizations:
Private parties, Corporate events, Schools, etc: Often have minimal or no in-house equipment. They don’t regularly have bands at these venues and so your gig contact may not have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Plan on bringing your own PA. If it is an outdoor show, be sure to ask about electrical power!
Music Clubs: Family music shows are daytime events, and the night club crew will be very bummed by your 8:00am load-in time. These folks do music shows every night of the year, so they know the drill. That’s good, because your detailed advance paperwork probably wasn’t given to the person who is actually working your show. Occasionally, you’ll find a rock club person who will be delighted by the extensive notes you’ve created, but usually they will prefer to wing it. You’ll be using the house PA at these gigs.
Festivals: Generally very well organized and you will be getting regular calls from their production coordinator until you have provided your stage plot, input list and backline requirements. The challenge at these events is there is little time for setup and no sound check. So it is a pressure situation all around. But the staff will always know what they are doing. You just need to stay calm and be flexible.
Tip: When considering a gig offer from a festival, find out how many years it has been running. If this is the first year the festival is being held, chances are it will not go altogether smoothly. Maybe wait and play there next year instead.
Performing Arts Centers: Tech folks here are used to working all sorts of shows, music, theater, dance, etc. They will be excited that you have technical documentation and notes for your show—the more the better. And they will use them! The in-house PA at these venues is enough for acoustic acts, larger bands may need to supplement with extra rental gear. Tip: If you have time during setup, meet with the Art Center’s lighting person, they are often willing to re-focus some lamps and set up some scenes for specific numbers.
Some Helpful Buzzwords
Sometimes, the correct use of a few buzzwords can help establish your credibility with technical people. Warning: Incorrect use of buzzwords will reveal your inexperience, so use with caution!
If you’re trying to figure out if the person you are speaking with knows anything about the sound system at hand, ask “how many monitor mixes?” This doesn’t mean they will count the number of wedge monitors on stage.
A “monitor mix” refers to a unique balance of sound that can be routed to one or more wedge monitors on stage. Multiple mixes means different musicians can have their own custom balance. On a smaller PA, there will be just one or two monitor mixes, mixed from Front of House (see below). Typically, no more than four mixes will be provided from the house console. For more than four mixes, there will usually be a dedicated monitor engineer on the gig, which is a luxury because you can make eye contact with this person in monitor-world during the show and with hand gestures and pantomime, get them to turn things up and down for you.
Where is “Monitor-World?”
It’s where the monitor engineer works. He or she is the person behind the mixing board that’s right up on stage with you. If there’s no monitor world, it means your monitors are being mixed from Front Of House.
What is Front Of House?
In this context, it is the main sound mixing position out in the audience area.
Which Way is “down-stage?”
It’s towards the audience. And “up-stage” is away from the audience.
About the presenter:
Rudy Trubitt played across the US for five years as tech director and bassist (and later, guitarist) of The Sippy Cups. He is also the author of over a hundred articles on music and sound production for such magazines as Electronic Musician and Mix and is the author of five books, including Live Sound for Musicians, published by Hal Leonard. His new solo single is “Wear My Pajamas to School.” You can find him on the web at trubitt.com