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Simple Yet Vital: Best Practices In Developing Input Lists And Stage Plots

A range of best practices for getting these two vital yet too-often overlooked aspects right.
Guitar and other musical equipment on stage before concert

In the world of live audio, no documents are as ordinary as input lists and stage plots. Every day across the world, artists, management, and production technicians create, share, and employ these seemingly simple documents to prepare for concerts and other live events.

Unfortunately, as commonplace as input lists and stage plots are, they are regularly lacking crucial content, are filled with misinformation, or are difficult to decipher. As a college educator who instructs young sound engineers, I do my best to communicate best practices. What follows is my current list of suggestions on how to fashion the all-important input list and stage plot.

General Advice

My first recommendation is to avoid the temptation to combine input lists and stage plots together. This approach is frequently seen on documents created by Stage Plot Pro, a popular plot construction program used by many in the industry. While in principle I have nothing against a combo doc, it rarely works out well in reality. Some important information is inevitably left off in order to save room, or because a software template doesn’t include it. When an effort is made to include all data on a single page, the document’s text often becomes too small to be readable.

Speaking of readability, it’s important to remember your audience. Technicians come in all ages and with all manners of visual acuity. Many will read your docs under dim stage lights. As tempting as it is to use small, cursive, or otherwise creative fonts, always employ standard block text in a larger-than-normal size.

Related to this, please use a computer to prepare documents. It’s the information age, and professionalism demands attractive and easily discernible documentation. Computers live in our pockets, and the days of cocktail napkin stage plots have passed. Learn from “Spinal Tap” and never expect chicken-scratch drawings to deliver precise measurements.

It’s also important to share these documents as PDFs. While cross-platform file exchange is not as bad as it used to be, PDFs are the most universal file format for text and graphic sharing. I regularly encounter this issue with my students, who frequently submit unreadable assignments created on random applications or operating systems. If we want our docs easily read by all, use PDFs.

Also be wary of cloud-based applications in which your readers will need internet access to view the documents. While Google Docs and other solutions are immensely powerful in office environments, stage technicians don’t always have reliable internet or spare minutes on a job site to remember a password and sign into a server. Simply export them as PDFs and you’re good to go.

Avoid Frustrations

Nearly all audio professionals have worked a gig in which the information they received in advance was incorrect and/or out of date. It’s almost a cliché in our industry for a backline company to provide musical equipment and/or a local crew to set up a stage, only to find out when the artist arrives that the setup is based on a previous tour’s documentation. Often this occurs because production information is emailed to promoters by booking agents far in advance of a show.

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While we can’t stop oblivious office staff from spreading ancient information, there’s a way for us to send a coded message to tech crews of future gigs. A simple date or title such as “Summer Tour 1969” can alert technicians to the exact vintage of the information enclosed.

Going a step further, a better solution might be to place an expiration date on your docs. A warning such as “This Input List Is Only Valid Through 1/15/2020” will do the trick, and you’ll want to follow it with instructions as to whom to contact after expiration.

Regardless of the chosen document-dating approach, contact information must be provided on all stage plots and input lists. The inclusion of the name, email, and phone number for the front of house engineer, production manager, or other artist representative is a necessity for helping local technicians answer questions and avoid assumptions.

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