Creating a stage plot

If you think a stage plot is something your drummer might do when no one is looking, we’d better clear things up right now. A stage plot is a formal, standardized way to visually communicate your performance setup and needs to the sound techs. This is often required when submitting applications at festivals such as the CHUN People’s Fair or Taste of Colorado. And really, any venue will appreciate this effort at professionalism.

The stage plot identifies all of the musicians, where they are situated, and what they will need in the way of sound support. The bigger the band, the more convenient a stage plot becomes. Before we discuss the equipment, let’s first take a look at a sound tech’s typical layout…

Most trained sound techs will arrange the stage from left to right in a very linear, organized fashion. Audio cables on the left side of the stage (facing the audience) will probably reflect mixer channels 1 through 6, with higher channels (7 through 12) snaking their way to the right side of the stage. Drums will typically have a cluster of 4 or 5 mic channels dedicated just for them (perhaps lines 13 through 16).

By the end of a hectic night, with band changes every hour on the hour, the whole “neat and orderly” thing might go straight out the window. If you see a sound tech running, that’s usually not a good sign. You won’t want to pick up and drag cables across the stage either – this will take your sound guy’s blood pressure to a whole new level.

Enter the Stage Plot
Your plot, if done correctly, will help the sound tech quickly visualize your needs and assign the appropriate channels to the appropriate gear. Hand him your plot and then stand back and let him set you up. There are just a few basic things you will need to know, and then a few more as you’ll see shortly.

Mics
There are two primary types of mics: vocal and instrument. The Shure SM58 is a very standard vocal mic. The SM57 is an instrument mic. You’ve probably seen them both lots of times.

Shure - some of the most common microphones used for live sound.
Shure – some of the most common microphones used for live sound.

When listing vocal mics, it’s very helpful to identify if it will be used by a male or female vocalist. This gives the tech a chance to setup some general EQ settings that are favorable to the range of the voice. If you are planning on using a wireless mic, let them know that as well, and be prepared for plan B if there are any complications.

Instrument mics are usually used to mic speaker cabinets or instruments that don’t have some form of direct input (DI), like a sax or flute or many acoustic instruments. It can help to identify the TYPE of instrument here since, thanks to PreSonus and other digital sound equipment, many sound guys can simply hit an EQ preset to best enhance that sax or flute just like vocals.

A DI box connects to audio cables which can then be connected directly to your instrument (like the 1/4″ connection of an acoustic/electric guitar). DI boxes can also be used for vocal effects units and anything else that may require a 1/4″ cable connection. If you are supplying your own DI box, be sure to indicate that on the plot, and be ready to tell the tech (correctly) if your unit runs on phantom power.

XLR connections can also be used in place of instrument mics. These are most commonly used on bass amps, but might also be connected to guitar amp heads or even directly to instruments with an XLR connection. It never hurts to know your equipment inside and out before meeting the sound guy.

Stage plot symbols
So now that you know what all of those mic and connections mean, it’s time to apply them to a universal stage plot. The traditional symbols for each connection are:

Circle = instrument mic
Triangle = XLR
Circle with cross = vocal mic
Square = DI box

Here’s what a common stage plot might look like:

A typical four-piece band stage plot...
A typical four-piece band stage plot…

It’s not crucial to include the names of your players, but really, why not make it extremely easy on the sound guy? Make sure you learn his name too and write it down if you’re not very good with names. Believe it or not, “hey, you – turn him up!” isn’t going to work for you as well as “can I please get more of guitar 1 in my monitor, Mike?”

Stage plots are easy to create with simple graphic art programs and then attach as a pdf or jpg file when submitting electronically. You could also just write it down on a piece of paper, snap a pic, and wah-lah, instant image for submission. Bring your printed copy to the shows too.

So now that you’re a pro at stage plots, start submitting your band to all of those festivals for next year and we’ll see you out there!

If you’re still confused about stage plots, please feel free to ask any questions below in the comments section. And if you’re an ace sound person please give us your two cents as well.

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