I just had a really nice experience advancing a show the other day. The band's agent that I spoke to painted a very clear picture of the band's style and needs. In a few minutes I was able to fill him in on what I had to offer at my venue and we parted ways after a ten minute conversation ready to meet up and do the show in a few weeks. An hour later I had a rider and a stage plot in my inbox and now I don't need to think about it any more until we get close.
So why is it that this experience is so unique. Why do bands show up and find a house tech that knows nothing of their needs when it's so easy to have the information ready and to distribute it well in advance. (Hence the term "advance".) Here's a quick outline about what both sides of the advance should look like.
As a band you should have your tech rider written out clearly and as briefly as possible. It needs to detail you needs as far as schedule, stage space, green room, merch sales, and most importantly your members and instrumentation. Often this document is just a wish list with extravagant requirements for a sound system to be provided but it's not hard to make one that's easier to comply with. Included should be an input list and a stage plot. The input list should be complete but also have some notes about things you could get along without in a pinch.
The stage plot should be a clear layout of how you set up on stage. Pictures can get overly complex but it's not hard to come up with a clean one. I've even done it with just blocks of text at the appropriate locations on a page. Information you should include is instrument played, name of player, details about the instrument (guitar, Marshall stack or Drums, five piece). Also include how many and what type of monitor is preferred and if power is required.
On the venue side you should have a tech pack you can send back in the other direction so the band engineer (BE) can have an idea of what they'll be walking in to. A simple one would include a diagram of the room with locations for the mix, lighting controls, power, and the house monitor setup. Then list off the signal flow from stage to speaker. 24x8 snake, A&H GL2400 24ch, DBX DriveRack PA, QSC PLX, EAW mains, Yorkville monitors. Then list off the wattage available at FOH and for the wedges. Then list off what's in your outboard racks and mic box. If your venue has lights list off the house rig and you're done. To sweeten things a little you could include info about green room, merch space, nearby shopping like Guitar Centers and Wal-Marts, and maybe a hotel or two. The whole thing should be three pages or less and have all the relevant location and contact info clearly listed at the top of the first page.
It's important for both sides to be realistic. Bands with six inputs should really just shut up about what an acceptable console is. Sure it's a ploy to make sure you're not showing up to find a thirty year old Peavey powered mixer, but to spec PM5D or Midas Pro6 for a 500 cap club tour is just nonsense and no venue that size is going to rent a single piece of gear for you. On the other side venues should stop the silent treatment and just give out the relevant information as quickly and clearly as possible. The house sound guy crowing about how he once worked with Motorhead (fetched Lemmy a Jack & Coke) isn't helping anyone.
That was a lot of babble to simply say: bands should say what they need, venues should say what they have, and the attitudes and whining should be left at home. It's so easy for a band to state their needs, a venue to state their capabilities, and have everyone work together and have a great night. So Brethren of the Knob and Fader, the challenge is out there. Get after it!