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Letting It Ride

Prepping input lists, stage plots and other key aspects of the tech rider.

The input list and stage plot is the audio core of any technical rider and the road map for organizing stage equipment and console inputs.

Accurate advance information allows risers and backline to be placed, microphones and wedges cabled, and even a line check when the touring crew’s travel is delayed.

Working for clubs, festivals or sound companies, we’re often frustrated by inaccurate paperwork reflecting a version of a band that’s months or years old. The reason for out-of-date paperwork is clear when the process for booking shows is understood.

The basic information, the stage plot and input list, is one or two pages of a larger “Technical Rider” document that spells out everything a performer’s staff asks to have provided to put on their show – sound, lights, backline, stage, electricity and risers.

“Rider” means it’s an attachment to the performance contract, a part of a larger “Contract Rider” that adds sections covering catering, dressing rooms, security, bus and truck parking or flights, hotel rooms, and local transportation.

Outdated tech riders exist because agents often book shows long before the band has rehearsed or the crew is hired. In order to execute a contract, the agency must include a rider that describes expenses beyond the artist’s fee. Lacking that, the agency sends a previous rider. An up-to-date rider is eventually forwarded to the agency, but often not passed along. Meanwhile changes to inputs and plot affect the budget minimally.

My own solution is the “One-Page Tech Rider Update,” a combination input list and stage plot that fits on a single page. E-mailing it a month or a week (or both) before the gig shows you care. Finally, to grease the wheels of progress, a few printed copies handed out at load-in immediately replace previous info with a current version without having to find a printer: one copy for the stage box, another for the mic workbox and a third for the backline vendor.

Making A List
The largest bands bring everything they need, from mics and direct boxes (DIs) to consoles and monitors. But for bands not carrying much, locals rely on accurate stage info. File-based tours require not only that the input list is in the correct order, but also that each input has the exact channel number, so the console’s channels line up with physical inputs. Additionally, if travel goes awry, it provides enough info to prepare the stage for a late arrival that may even preclude a sound check. It happens.

Dr. John input list created with Microsoft Word Table.

The best practice is to incorporate both into a one-page document if possible, so that both inputs and plot can be seen at once and the two never get separated. Obviously larger acts may use an entire page for 48 or more inputs, but at that point, it’s likely they’re either the headliner or carrying all their equipment. To shorten input lists, stereo or multiple inputs using the same mic or DI saves one or more lines.

Input channels are arranged by instrument type and proceed in a standard order, with drums first, followed by bass, keyboards and guitars, any horns or acoustic instruments and vocals last. There’s even a convention for the order of drum inputs.

Sub-snakes usually have 12 channels, so the first dozen often follow a standard festival drum patch, with two kick drum mics (inside followed by outside), snare mics (top before bottom), then hi-hats, followed by up to four toms, and ending with maybe a ride cymbal mic and finally two overheads. One or two more sub-snakes cover the remaining upstage backline inputs on each side of the drum riser, with another downstage for front line vocals and downstage instrument mics or DIs.

The audio tech that patches the stage box and labels the sub-snakes might not care about the musicians’ names, but needs to know where each input is located on stage, so other than drum inputs, many input list channel names should end with three-letter abbreviations to be clear: DSL, DSC or DSR (downstage-left, downstage-center or downstage-right) and USL, USC or USR (upstage-left, -center or -right), with stage directions meant as facing the audience.

Input lists begin as a column of consecutive channel numbers on the left, followed by a column of input names with specific mic models. Additional columns show phantom power, sub-snake assignments, alternate mics and mic stand choices, each separated from the previous by a tab. Abbreviations for these properties are the headers for each column, in a logical order.

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