How to Write a Band Technical Specification

As a sound technician, I have come across countless channel lists, stage plots and technical riders, some of them excellent and some of them good only for scrap paper. As a band engineer, I’ve also written plenty. I have a good idea of what information is necessary in order to convey a band’s technical requirements with a minimum of fuss and maximum clarity.

What is a technical specification?
For our purposes, a technical specification (or tech spec) is a document outlining all the necessary technical information of a facility or band. It may also refer to documents relating to equipment, although this is out of the scope of this article.

A venue may provide a tech spec detailing all of the equipment in use in the venue, as well as relevant issues such as power location / rating, stage dimensions, wing space etc. It may also include venue diagrams and rigging information. This will typically be sent out to the relevant contacts of all companies coming into a venue so that they know what to expect when they walk through the door.

A band may provide a tech spec to a promoter or venue that outlines what equipment and conditions are required for them to do their show to the highest standard. This will typically include preferred audio equipment, an input list, monitor list and a stage plot.

This article refers to the latter, the document provided by a band to a promoter, often refered to as a technical rider.

What to include
The tech spec will probably be the first impression that you make, and as such, should be composed in a manner that conveys your experience, capability and professionalism. Avoid clauses such as “PA must produce 20W per audience member” which show a lack of technical understanding and demanding a 44+4 channel Midas XL4 for a show in a pub (unless you’re mixing Bon Jovi in which case you can probably have what you want).

The most important rules to follow when composing a technical specification are:

  • Keep it simple
    You may be an artistic kind of person, but leave it out for another time. Don’t use pictures downloaded from the Internet and fancy clipart. Instead, simple symbols with a legend are more than adequate. These documents need to be clear, easy to read (often on a dark stage) and photocopy-able, which means black & white only.

  • Put all the relevant details on every page
    Venues and hire companies receive hundreds of riders and tech specs. Ensure that they know who and when your rider is for with the name of the act, the date or range of dates it is valid and relevant contact details on every page. This means that you are still contactable should they lose the last page. An expiry date will reveal without doubt whether the document is in or out-of-date.

  • Ensure that it is correct and up-to-date
    While it is entirely possible that your spec may change significantly between the time you sent out the rider and when you turn up at the gig, ensure it is as up-to-date as possible when sent out. Always carry a few hard copies of the very latest version so that when you turn up at the gig and find that they have an old copy, you can immediately give them an up-to-date version. Also, make sure you don’t contradict yourself e.g. marking the lead vocal as channel 25 on the input list and channel 31 on the stage plot.

  • A tech spec is not a substitute for advancing a show
    Even though you have sent out your rider, don’t assume that it will be followed to the letter, and it often won’t. It may not even arrive in the hands of the right person! Phone the audio provider 1-2 weeks before the show and make sure that everything is on track and they know all the relevant information (which should be written down in the spec). Request a spec from them of what will be provided and make sure that it is adequate to run your show. They’ll probably have some questions for you too. Unless you’re mixing the biggest shows in the world, you will never get exactly what you want all of the time and compromises must be made.

Equipment Spec
The equipment spec should include the preferred equipment you require to present the show to the highest standard, which can include console preferences, outboard preferences, speaker/monitor preferences and anything else you require. It should include things that are vital to your show e.g. if you require 8 sets of in-ear monitors provided, this should be stated here.

Channel List Example

Please note that these documents can be treated in a very different way depending on the providers, some of which think that they are no more than equipment wish lists for engineers playtime. The best way to avoid this situation is to be reasonable in your requests and to present yourself as knowledgable and competent. Just because it’s written in your tech spec does not mean that it’s going to be at the show. This is just one reason why you should advance the show with a phone call, to make sure that the equipment that will actually be provided will be capable of running your show, let alone meet the spec!

Channel List
The purpose of a channel list is to inform the audio provider how many inputs you require, what they consist of, what your preferred microphones are and where you require inserts. From this, they can make an informed decision when picking microphones / DIs / stands and cables from their warehouse stock.

If you are carrying any of your own gear, make it clear. It’s frustrating and a waste of money for everyone involved when the provider hires in a full mic kit to find that the tour carries all their own mics.

Monitor List Example

Columns such as ‘+48V’ and ‘Polarity’ are superfluous. Your local audio crew should know which microphones require phantom power, and polarity is something for the mix engineer to do, just like turning up the gain or an EQ pot. Also, don’t label channels with people’s names (unless their name is on the poster), but rather their role in the band. This will make it easier for the house crew to differentiate, they don’t need to learn everyone’s names. Simplicity and clarity is key.

Monitor List
A monitor list should show how many monitor mixes are required on stage, what order they should be patched and what kind of output each mix requires (wedge, IEM, XLR). These should correspond with the stage plot. It can also show whether the buses are to be configured mono or stereo.

Stage Plot
The stage plot is a diagram of the stage to show where each performer will be, where your backline will be, what risers you require, where the channels (referenced from the channel list) should appear, where you require backline power and where you require monitor mixes. You should mark the front of stage, stage right and stage left to remove any doubt.

Example Stage Plot

Electronic v Paper
Computers are obviously a large part of our lives today, and together with the internet make the whole process of sending information across the globe much easier. However, when sending documents via e-mail, they should be sent in Adobe PDF format. The reason is that it is a universal format that will render the same on any computer, regardless of format or age, unlike Word or Excel files where you must rely on the recipient having a copy of Microsoft Office or compatible.

On an Apple computer, PDFs can be created easily from any document after selecting Print. On the PC, it is necessary to use a utility such as Cute PDF or one of the other multitude of freeware programs.

As convenient as computers are, always make sure that you are carrying a couple of hard copies of the entire spec to clarify any issues on the gig.

As a final note, a tech spec is a necessary way to convey what is required for a gig, but it is not a substitute for advancing a show. A quick phone call 1-2 weeks before an event will bring light to and help to clarify any problems that may arise due to an oversight on either parties behalf, and to make sure that there are no surprises for either party on show day.

Downloads

Here is an example of a full sound tech spec.
Full Sound Tech Spec Example (Adobe PDF Format)

I have included a basic template that I made and use for creating channel and monitor lists. Please feel free to use it for your own productions.
Channel List (Microsoft XLS Format)

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