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Set lists for the sound man and sound woman.

Do you ever find yourself wishing the soundman knew your songs or your music a little better? Telling yourself if he only knew about this dynamic or that change, or that you mean to make this horrible screeching sound that should not be compressed. Maybe you wish the monitors could be turned up at a certain section or maybe if there is a light guy to have him cut the lights right at a big accent.

You have seen it in larger shows where everyone just seemed in sync and you long for that, even if this is the only night you are working with a given soundman, monitor engineer or lighting guy.

The forgotten notes

A lot of artists will come up to a soundman and, before hitting the stage or during a sound check, barrage the soundman (or woman) with a series of verbal bullet points. More often than not, these are immediately forgotten, especially when there is a night where you are on a bill with a number of other artists. Your information will surely fall through the cracks and be history.

Then on the other hand, there are those places where the sound guy is going to get a linear level line just making sure that nothing is feeding back and everything can basically be heard. You are not going to see those nuances at that show. But, if you have the right venue, the right crew and the right information, you can take your show up a notch.

Give the sound man the 411

I heavily and strongly advise that every band has a stage plot and or input list printed out and ready to hand to the soundman once you arrive at the venue. If it is a larger venue, or you are going to have a monitor engineer side stage or separate from your soundman, then have two sets of copies. While some might look at you like you’re crazy, the professional soundmen will be both impressed and able to help you much more with your sound, your setup and your show.


Think of it like giving directions for someone to get to your house. If you just give the address, that means people have to look up the route, guess or try to find it. This can mean extra time and extra effort that is seen as a pain to many people. Yes there is mapquest out there, but think of it as if it was before it was easy to just look up directions on the internet. There is no mapquest for your music.

By giving the sound crew your stage plot and an input list, you are supplying them with a blueprint to your set up. and easy to follow directions to get the fastest set up and sound going for your band. Ask any engineer that is worth their weight and they will more than appreciate the effort and work harder for you. Think of it in this way….You have just made life easier for them, they will likely return the favor.

The Soundman or soundwoman’s view

Take the view from the soundman’s side. All these bands want to have the best sound in the world and more often than not, do not do anything to help the sound crew make things go faster or easier. You now have a better chance of getting better sound on stage because you just made the job a little easier for the soundman.

Now taking it one more level, why not give the sound engineer a set list?

They do not need to know the songs by heart, but by handing off a set list with a description of how each song starts, ends and any abrupt or very important dynamic change along the way, you can give some additional direction and ideas to a sound crew that might go a little further for you.

For example.

1. Stuck In A Moment – Loud Rocking tune

a. Starts with drum opening then fill in to the band

b. Breakdown fake ending in the middle with bass solo

c. Outro – every one ends together

So the soundman that reads this might decide to bring up the drums a little more for the beginning. If he is working lights or has someone by him doing lights, he might cue that person to raise the lights on the drummer. Since the soundman is aware of a bass solo, he may bring the bass up immediately in the middle, instead of what often happens, where the bass player starts the solo and then the sound crew realizes what is going on and makes adjustments half way through if at all.

So that’s how it goes

Knowing the group ends together, he or she might pull the faders or even just cut the volume for an optimum effect.

Other things you might mention is about loops or samples that might be coming from the keyboards at certain times. If you are switching in between acoustic and electric guitars or switching instruments all together. Mentioning who is singing what songs so other microphones can be turned down to prevent feedback or extra noise.

Mentioning that the drummer might be using brushes, turning off a snare drum or anything else that might make the sound crew look up and wonder what is wrong. Give some simple directions that can make things easier for the front of house.

Of course you should be able to give the best show you can possibly from stage. I am not taking away from technical proficiency and basic showmanship as well as knowing how to perform on stage, but getting that extra boost from the soundman can help a great deal in adding that extra punch to a show.

Don’t write a book

Don’t go over the top with it though. Basic notes, basic song set list. Do not go asking for crazy things that change every song or if you really feel you need or want those elements, talk to the soundman about giving him some money or some type of incentive to do that little extra.

Otherwise, delivering a set list with a couple additional notes to the soundman can be a helpful extra that might make things sound a little better and make the sound crew’s life a little easier.

© 2009 Loren Weisman

Reader Comments (7)

Your assuming an awful lot in the professionalism of most sound people that I've come accross.

Soundmanitis comes in many strains:
the "i've been doing this since '78, you ain't telling me anything" type,
the "I think the delay is an istrument, and i love to play it" type,
the "I ain't doing this till somebody gets me drunk or high or both" type,
the "nowhere to be found ...oh wait, he's hitting on that girl over there by merch guy" type
the "why don't you sound like Slayer, your band sucks" type,
the "dude, it's under control, just go play" type
the "You want me to read a cue sheet? Ha." type

I've tried approaching countless FOH people about this sort of thing for years, and it usually just ends up with me feeling crappy. The good ones typically have good jobs either in big clubs I'm not playing or with bigger name acts. The local yahoos are (even the rare nice ones with great attitudes but don't really know their craft) typically the guys who make you think "why the hell do I do this again?"

These are fantastic points here, but I'd be willing to bet that most working musicians will rarely be able to implement them.

September 24 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Obviously, the author has no real idea of what goes into live sound reinforcement.

As both a touring and house sound engineer, I'd say making a stage plot/input list is a benefit, but a set list with notes for songs is pretty much a waste of time.

This isn't because of any potential laziness, indifference, or lack of talent on the engineer's part -- you're asking someone you've (likely) never met before, who's (likely) never heard your music before, whose tastes you (likely) don't know, to make creative decisions about your band's sound.

A house sound engineer has a lot of things to worry about during a show, and the particular nuances of your music should come across regardless of any intervention by the engineer. If you're really particular about your sound, hire a sound engineer you trust to mix your band.

September 24 | Unregistered Commentermb

I too have been a FOH engineer for clubs, festivals, touring acts and the like. I find the above points to be great. For festivals it is essential for bands to have a stage plot and an input list. When a band didn't provide such things I was forced to hunt down one of the band members and try to pull it out of them and then I needed to take good notes or have an incredible memory. That is a huge pain and I definately had more energy to work with the groups that provided me with these things.

As for the set list and the song notes. I agree with the comment above that there is generally too much going on to focus on these things. However I will say that I would not take offense to it and if I had the opportunity to consult the notes as the song began I certainly would take these things into account. I think as the performer you should do your part and provide the information but if the engineer doesn't have the space to deal with it then don't get upset.

Just a response to the first comment by Paul. I would agree that there are all kinds of bad attitudes out there. I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised that I have run into some really undesirable BS from musicians while attempting to make them sound the best I could plossibly make them sound. The thing to avoid is an US and THEM mentality. The groups that were organized and knew what they wanted that I've had the pleasure to work with I felt much more like a colaberator. This helps everyone.

Something I think the author of the article left out is your monitor mix/stage sound. If you don't know what you want in your monitors then how do you expect the engineer to know. He/she doesn't know that you can't hear the vocalist. You have to be as specific about this as possible up front. And it wouldn't hurt to have a band member who has made it their function to learn how much of what each band member wants in their mix. I suggest setting this up based on 6 mixes, 4 mixes, 3 mixes, 2 mixes and (god forbid) a single mix.

I think this a great article and all performing musicians should follow this advise.

Tom Siegel

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterTom Siegel

As a sometime FOH guy and full-time artist, lately, I can relate to all of the above, but MB is correct; a detailed set list is unlikely to be much help. Nevertheless, providing such could probably never hurt. A stage plot is absolutely essential, but will not prevent errors in all cases. I expect an engineer that doesn't know the material to keep all the inputs open at all times, but it can only help to know who has a solo on which tune, even if the engineer has to go by song number rather than title.

October 1 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

I agree the stage plot or input list should be first and is most helpful but I have noticed and maybe because it has been a while since I have been out on the road, that giving the extra information has been well received in the past. It may not be that way as much any more but I found that some FOH crews liked it.

October 6 | Registered CommenterLoren Weisman

If you think a sound guy is going to sit out in the middle of a crowd , there only to see the MAIN band and your just one of the 5 opening acts fresh out of the basement and you hand me a book to read on HOW YOUR BAND IS SUPPOSE TO SOUND . I think it is time yo give up what your doing on stage and become One with the sound system and run it yourself .. LOL ... I have been at this for 44 years now and I have seen it all .. EVEN to the point where the Monitor guy wanted to take two of the Monitor mixes and make them the House mix and Mix the house from the Monitors using radios to figure out what needs to be done on stage with the help of one of the Wifes of one of the guys in the band ... OH YA , She was also wearing hearing aids ... This is Why a Job at Disneyland is looking good right about now .... LOL ...LOL...LOL...

June 1 | Unregistered CommenterChuck

I think this article has a lot of good points. As a musician, I've encountered many different types of FOH engineers in a myriad of venues. However, it mainly comes down to two main categories. Sound engineers that try to work with the artist and other guys that move faders, try to prevent feedback, and pretend to adjust the lead singer's monitor level.

I agree completely with Tom Siegel's point about the "US V THEM" mentality. If more bands and engineers started realizing that both roles are needed for the other to have a job, the live music industry would achieve a higher level of performance.

June 25 | Unregistered Commenterlp

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