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PREPARE THYSELF FOR THY SOUNDTECH

by Steve Parton   www.partonmusic.com
Also see Bands Who Do Their Own Sound


Montreal, July `95: we were a sound crew of five setting up for a really big show for a band from Mexico. The band, arriving from Toronto, was stuck and was going to be late. As the sound tech, I'd asked for a stage plot or tech ryder or anything to let us know what the musicians would need when they do arrive. There were none, and the three thousand-plus people arrived before any musicians. All we had to go on was an estimated number of 16 players, and my past experience with Mexican music. The band arrived to my proposed set-up for horns, percussion, etc. Not only was there no one member who could list off all of his fellow musicians, but none of them spoke English or French. This whole disaster could have been avoided had a stage plot been provided by the promoter, manager or musicians.

When I'm hired by a band to do sound, I provide a Stage Plot and Input List (something I call the S.P.I.L. sheet) for the house tech or system tech. As my own band doesn't have its own tech (besides myself, but I'm busy being a musician), we use the tech appointed to us by the establishment, which sometimes makes me feel not unlike the criminally accused who can't afford his own defense attorney. Hence the stage plot / input list, a.k.a. the tech ryder, not to be confused with the regular rider, in which one can request Smarties with all the red ones removed.

So on your computer or by hand, PLOT all of the instruments on the STAGE diagram with the names of the musicians (or spaces for names to be written if they are freelancers), making sure they correspond to the input list. Orient the diagram by specifying Stage Right, Stage Left, Upstage and Downstage. You should indicate the position of the audience for those boneheads who still mix stage left with audience left...if in doubt, look up Rush's second live album. The input list will give the specifics like phantom power, preferred mics, etc. If nothing else, this is a way to put into words what has been drawn on the stage plot so there is no confusion. Before you hit the photocopier, show your masterpiece to a couple of other sound techs to read. If there are a lot of questions, or if there is even one question, go back (to the computer) and clarify yourself better. You may find that some house techs will ask questions that may easily be answered by the stage plot that they're holding in their hands, either because they prefer to be told verbally or they are not used to dealing with bands or band techs organized enough to actually have a stage plot.

If you're not totally convinced that this document is worthwhile, consider the outcome of faxing your stage plot to each venue a couple days before the show, especially if there's ever a chance you're going to be late. Arriving at a stage on which microphones are placed and awaiting the instruments is great for a band tech. Make sure you have written "Please forward to house tech", and give an emergency phone number (which you of course check everyday when you're on the road). Carry many extra copies with you for those bored, overly-passive techs who somehow lose theirs en route from the front-of-house to the stage.

About those red smarties...

Let the techs know what you need, but if you desire a pink wireless Beta 58, best supply it yourself, unless you have the clout to send the promoter running back to Steve's Music in a huff. The size and specifics of the tech ryder depend proportionately on the calibre of the band and the numbers that will be drawn to the show. Large bands playing small venues should carry extra mics, DI's, XLR cables, or perhaps even a submixer if you know you can't fit onto a 16- or 24-channel board.

If the sound tech who is mixing you isn't familiar with your band, your style or sound, offer a brief explanation, and/or a comparison to another band (I know, I know, your sound is like no other), and perhaps write this on the stage plot along with any crucial monitor requests. This is in the event that circumstances don't allow for a detailed pre-soundcheck discussion.

It is important not to good-heartedly try to "help out" sound techs by making such suggestions as an SM58 for the vocals, or how to set up the console, unless you are the band tech instructing the house tech how you want things done. Do not forget that they too have their way of doing things. Remember the word CLOUT. Look it up if you need to.


Steve Parton is a composer, recording artist and music educator residing in Southern Ontario. Steve was a regular contributor to Canada's national music mag Canadian Musician, where this article first appeared.
Visit Steve's music site at www.partonmusic.com

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