Estimated Reading Time: 9 Minutes
From musical concerts to public speaking, onstage audio involves enough challenges without the stage itself adding more complications. That’s why properly managing a stage—through strategic planning, following setup best practices, and regular maintenance—is key to achieving the best results from your live sound performances. This article will discuss these three steps in the process of managing a live sound stage, as well as recommend some handy accessories to help simplify the task so you can get back to focusing on your specific project.
PLANNING YOUR STAGE SETUP
Intentional planning will save time in the long run. This will also allow you to consult with anyone else who will be using the stage so you can strategize to meet their needs as well.
Start with a Stage Plot
Whether you’re traveling to a one-time gig or permanently installing gear, the first thing to do is map it out. For independent performers such as touring musicians, this step will help take some of the last-minute decisions out of the equation when you arrive at a venue. For a contractor/integrator of an established stage, this method enables you to swap things around and try different options—as opposed to lugging heavy equipment back and forth around your stage space.
Procure an accurate diagram of your stage and its surrounding space (either from a building manager or by measuring the space yourself and sketching it out on graph paper). You can use this map to plan a “stage plot” where different stage gear will go, where musicians or speakers will stand, and so on. You can also use copies of this map to create a visual reference of where sound will be dispersed via microphones and monitors (a “sound plot” that helps you avoid these devices from crossing over signals and creating feedback) and where lighting will be directed (a “lighting plot”). If your stage is using platforms (or “risers”), make sure to also create a vertical diagram that takes different height requirements into account.
Prep the Stage
For a temporary gig, you may be using a stage that’s already set up for the most part, and so the main thing you’ll have to worry about is where to coordinate placing your gear among the preexisting setup. But let’s assume you’re setting up from scratch.
When faced with an empty platform or other performance space, begin by making sure it’s clean; once all your instruments, gear, and other trappings are set up, this step will be much more complicated! Start with sweeping the stage. Mop it if necessary. If the stage is carpeted, vacuum it.
Once everything is clean, you’re ready to start marking the stage. Use gaffer’s tape to mark (or “spike”) the center of the stage; you can use this to cross-reference with your paper diagrams to ensure you set everything up as you’d planned. You can also use tape to outline certain areas of the stage where larger units such as pianos, monitors, or platforms will be positioned.
Place Your Gear
Using your paper diagrams and tape marks as a reference, begin bringing in pieces of gear. Start with the bigger pieces, such as platforms, large instruments, and speakers, and slowly move your way down to the smaller gear and accessories. Leave plenty of room for performers to walk to and from their positions, as well as extra space if certain gear needs to be moved during the performance. If you’re the performer, this may be straightforward, but if you’re setting up for someone else be sure to stay in close communication with them so you understand what they need and they know how things will be set up so there are no surprises once they’re in front of the audience.
GEAR TO STREAMLINE YOUR STAGE
While some gear—such as cables—is ubiquitous to stage setup, there are other products that—while less popular—are great tools to solve common problems, cut down setup or cleanup time, or otherwise make life easier for the performing artist onstage or the audio professionals that support them.
Most AVL setups use cables to connect audio sources, video equipment, and light fixtures. The more gear you have onstage, however, the more cables you’ll have to manage—and the easier it will be for them to get tangled, create tripping hazards, or simply clutter up the visuals of the stage.
Using your stage plot, you can diagram which cables you’ll need to use—and where best to position them so they’re out of the main pathways and minimize audience line-of-sight. Using straight lines and 90-degree angles to run the cables along the front and back of the stage (downstage and upstage) is a good method of keeping them out of the way and allows them to meet at the side of the power outlet or other connection source.
Most of the time you’ll have some “slack” (or extra length of cable) that you can coil neatly out of the way; try to do this so that these coils aren’t all in the same place since that can cause them to be tangled together easily. Rather, start running your cables from the common power source and coil the slack ends near the other end (such as at the base of a microphone stand or monitor wedge). Having the slack on this end is useful because these pieces of gear are more likely to be repositioned last-minute or moved during the performance.
Organizers and hangers can consolidate multiple cables and minimize tangles, while labels can either be color-coded or written upon to expedite making connections during setup. Audio snakes combine multiple cables into one unit. You can also streamline cables by using ties to tether them against music stands, furniture, or other rigging points; use Velcro options for temporary or repositionable use, while zip ties can be used to attach cables almost permanently.
For cable runs along the floor, you can use small throw rugs to temporarily cover them. Gaffer’s tape is a better option for setups that you want to keep (while also retaining the ability to change placement as needed). For low-traffic cables, tack cables down in low-traffic areas, while for high-traffic pathways you should run a tape along the length of the cable where it rests on the floor. Keep in mind that the longer gaff tape has adhered to a surface, the more likely it will leave a sticky residue when removed.
For gigs, cables on reels such as these options from CBI, are an efficient way to deploy cables and streamline the pack-up process. For permanent installations, stage pockets are a great alternative for consolidating your connectivity and saving on valuable stage space. (For options about custom-configured stage boxes for your installation, contact one of SoundPro’s knowledgeable Account Managers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800.203.5611.)
Proper setup for stands (whether they’re for sheet music, microphones, instruments, and more) is vital to ensure stability throughout the entire performance. For instance, a tripod model needs to have all three legs fully extended and locked. Place your music stand on a flat, even, and stable surface, and make sure it’s being used to support the types of equipment it was designed for so as not to become overbalanced and fall over under a piece of gear that’s too heavy or bulky for it.
When setting up a wired microphone on its stand, it may be tempting to wrap the cable around the stand’s pole to take up the extra slack. You should resist this temptation for a couple of reasons:
- It adds unnecessary twists to the cable and may lead to kinks or knots.
- It hinders the performer if they need to take the mic off the stand to walk around the stage.
- It adds time to set up before and pack up afterward.
As mentioned before, the best practice is to coil the cable’s slack beside the microphone stand’s base.
Another great—if also obvious—method for reducing cables is to go with a wireless audio setup. Antenna distribution amps (for wireless mic receivers) and antenna combiners (for wireless in-ears) are ideal for coordinating this sort of setup.
For multipurpose stages of myriad applications—such as entertainment venues, houses of worship, or school auditoriums—you may want to have multiple types of gear and accessories handy but also desire a place to store these things so they're both out of sight and easy to access at a moment’s notice. Equipment racks are a popular solution, particularly options with casters that can be rolled into various positions just off-stage. Rack drawers are ideal for keeping smaller system components safe, secure, and simple to find.
MAINTAINING YOUR STAGE
As the performance gets underway, keep track of what works and what doesn’t. This way you can make tweaks as needed to improve the stage management and optimize further performances. Creating a checklist of tricks to remember or pitfalls to avoid may be helpful, particularly for gigging artists whose stage setups may change dramatically depending on which venues they book.
After the performance, tidy everything up. Sweep (or vacuum) the stage—be careful not to snag any cables! Store all gear and accessories in their designated places; you can use your trusty stage plots to ensure everything is in its proper place (this is especially helpful for establishing a consistent setup if multiple groups of people are using a stage). If gear such as keyboards or speakers is left on-stage, cover them up to protect against the accumulation of dust while they’re not in use. Store other gear such as microphones in cases to protect against other environmental elements such as humidity.
As we’ve discussed in previous articles such as The Art of Microphone Maintenance and The Care and Keeping of Cables, taking care of your physical gear is more than just protecting a monetary investment; it can determine the quality, consistency, and longevity of that gear’s performance. This involves routine checking on your gear to confirm it’s still working to the best of its ability, and replacing damaged or worn-out components or accessories as they arise. Taking these precautions will help you avoid unpleasant surprises mid-performance and ensure that your onstage audio is heard without a hitch.
For more information about how to streamline your stage to optimize your performances, reach out to the SoundPro experts at email@example.com or 800.203.5611.
Laura Strommen – Content Writer
Laura has been a part of the SoundPro team since 2021. Her favorite summer activity is reading outside, which consists mainly of figuring out how to keep from falling out of a hammock.
Shawn Tallard – Account Manager
Starting in the AVL industry right out of college, Shawn brings over 25 years of experience to SoundPro. He’s a singer-songwriter/musician with two albums released under a pseudonym, licensing songs to major networks.