Input Sheet Examples

Last time, we talked about some reasons to use an input sheet. That post was prompted by a post the previous week on console layouts. The goal with this whole concept is to organize our set up so that it is more productive, efficient and user-friendly. The easier we can make the mixing process for our team, the more successful they can be. We already know mixing is hard, but let’s not make it harder with poor organization. 

Today I’m going to show you a few examples of input sheets so you have some ideas on what information to include and how to organize it. This first one is one of the first I did. Looking back on it, I already see some issues that I would address today. But it served it’s purpose back then, and was a huge improvement over what we had (which was nothing). 

The Basic Sheet

This input sheet could be divided into three groups of information. The first 3 columns provide the patching information. Here, you find the board channel, the stage input and any sub-snake assignment. The next 3 columns provide application information. What type of input is it, who will be using it and are there any special notes to be aware of. Finally, we see routing, monitoring and bussing information, along with a note on phantom power. 

Armed with nothing but this input sheet (and a stage plot), my volunteer set up crew could completely wire the stage for me during the week, and I could quickly verify it on rehearsal night. 

Looking back on it, I would change some things if I were doing it today. I would rearrange the console to follow a more conventional layout, and would color code more. But at the time, it worked well. Equipment-wise, we were using a 32-channel analog console and an Aviom system for monitoring. 

An Intermediate Sheet

This next sheet was developed by a friend of mine, Tyler Kanishero. He’s using an M7 with a couple of cards, and did a great job of putting all the information you’d need on a single sheet. On the left side, you see all 48 input channels on the console and what plugs into them. Inputs are direct, stage and cards. In the middle you have the mixe and matrix assignments. On the right, the Aviom and output assigns are clearly listed. 

This example goes into more detail, but still keeps the information clearly and easy to find. About the only thing I would change on this is to add color. As you can see, he has the same information I had in my basic example, but it’s organized differently. Like a console setup, it doesn’t matter so much how you do it, as long as it makes sense in your context. Of course, there are advantages to doing things similarly to industry standards. But make sure it works for you. 

The Advanced Sheet

This is the sheet I developed jointly with Isaiah Franco. I started it, he did a lot of work on it, then I tweaked it some more after he left. I wrote a series of posts on it some time back if you want to know more about how it works (Part 1, Part 2). We use a lot of cool Numbers features for drop down menus, and a ton of if-then statements to auto-fill much of the content. 

This sheet is four pages long and presents the information in a few ways. The first two pages are for the stage team. They get all the information for patching and set up through the patch list and stage diagram. All the wireless mic and IEM assignments are also clearly spelled out. The second two pages are for the FOH engineer. In reality, most of that info was already dealt with in the baseline show file, but it’s good to know what is there. 

This one was tweaked and massaged over five years, and I’m pretty happy with it. It’s overkill for many situations, however. If you have a smaller set up, you don’t likely need this much information. However, there are principles that should be useful. 

Remember, it’s less important how you do the input sheet, and more important that you do it. Figure out what works for you and start. You’ll be glad you did.

Here are the sheets in PDF version. Everyone is going to ask for the originals; I don't have all of the, so just build them yourself in Excel or Numbers. It's good practice. 

Intermediate Sheet

Advanced Sheet

Roland

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Using Input Sheets

As you may have noticed, last week didn’t go quite as planned. I had fully expected to get a few posts up about input sheets, as well as another topic. I ended up getting to enjoy a week up north at my family’s camp in the Adirondack Mountains in NY. As I haven’t been there in 7 years, I took advantage of the opportunity. It threw off my writing schedule, but the weekend off was worth it. But we’re back now, and we’ll jump right back in. 

In my last post, we talked about setting up your console. Now that I’m traveling to even more churches than ever, I’ve seen some very creative console layouts. And pretty much everyone looks at me funny when I ask them for an input sheet. I used input sheets every weekend for over eight years—even though most weeks we could have gotten away without one. But I’m a big fan of consistency, and once I settle on a good way of doing things I like to keep doing it.

Input Sheets Keep You Organized

As I said, I’ve seen some interesting console layouts. Sometimes, those things happen because it’s the fastest way to something done, and it just stays that way. But when you put it on paper, it’s easier to see that having the drums scattered all over the console doesn’t make sense. I also find that putting things on paper is a great way to think through better ways of doing it. Sometimes, we get in such a routine, that we don’t even notice there is a better way of accomplishing a task until we write it down. Then it leaps off the paper to us. 

I’ve also realized that we have been doing something the hard way for a while, and it’s time to simplify. Again, this comes from writing it down and looking it over. 

Input Sheets Help You Spot Problems Ahead of Time

Ever show up for a weekend service and find you are short a few vocal mic’s? Or perhaps you don’t have enough DI’s to cover all the keyboards and guitars. Or maybe you’re just out of channels on the console. Those issues are a lot easier to solve on Tuesday than they are on Sunday morning. Making up an input sheet earlier in the week will head those issues off at the pass. Even if your set up is relatively stable week to week, it’s still nice to know that you have what you need. 

Input Sheets Help You Communicate with the Team

When you have an input sheet, you can hand a copy to someone on your team and they know how to set up the stage. Everyone knows what plugs into what. I figured I could either spend my set up time answering questions from my guys on where to plug things in, or empower them to do it themselves. I always prefer the latter. 

Input Sheets Help With Troubleshooting

Have you ever been working your way through soundcheck only to find you have no signal from the acoustic guitar? After checking the tuner, we tend to start looking at all kinds of exotic problems that it might be. But before doing that, make sure it’s plugged in to the right input. An input sheet will help you verify that you’re in the right snake, sub snake or stage input, and patched into the right channel on the board. Instead of tracing wires, you can quickly verify patching. Often, that solves the problem. 

I really can’t find any downside to using an input sheet each week. They only take a few minutes to make and often save a lot of time during the weekend. Next time, I’ll give you a few examples of input sheets so you have some ideas for creating your own.

“Gear

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Audio Console Layout

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen lately, audio console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. However, a properly laid out console not only makes mixing more fun, it can keep us from making big mistakes during a service. 

Legend has it that in the early days of mixing, as analog consoles got larger, engineers noticed that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was typically on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums—who would notice noise in the drum channels? 

Somewhere along the line, a somewhat common layout emerged: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. As consoles and input count continued to grow, we started seeing the master section land in the middle of the console instead of on the right. In that case, usually the band fell to the left while vocals and effects fell to the right.

Back then, where channels showed up on the console was completely dependent on what inputs they were plugged into. Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digitally or analog—it’s important to spend some time thinking about why channels go where they do. 

Why You Do Is More Important Than What You Do

I’ve seen all sorts of…shall we say, interesting channel layouts on consoles. Drums spread all over the place, the lead guitar next to the pastor’s mic, vocal effects in the middle of the keyboards. It’s as if someone just patched inputs into the first open channel or floor pocket without any thought at all.

And while there are all sorts of ways you can lay out your console, the first consideration is to make sure you do it on purpose. Don’t just shove inputs into any old channel. Take some time to think about it and patch it in a way that makes sense. Keep all the drum channels together, and then keep the band together. Having all the vocals next to each other makes it a lot easier to find them. Put the channels you adjust all the time closest to you, so you’re not reaching all the way to the end every time. Think about how you mix, then organize the channels in a way that supports what you do.

For Example…

There is no “right” way to organize a console. But here are some ideas of how to do it. Personally, I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels like speaking mic’s, music playback, video and other utility channels are either to the right or left of effects depending on the console. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I had my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which put my vocals right in the middle in front of me. My preference is to mix more on channel faders than VCAs, but I know others who prefer the opposite.

I also know guys who put the bass right next to the kick because they like to work those two together. I keep my bass in my guitars VCA; others put in with the drums or dedicate a VCA to just kick and bass. 

Stay Consistent

When I mix on analog consoles, I still follow the same basic layout. The advantage of a consistent layout is that I can mix almost any band on any console and without looking know where the faders are. In contrast, I’ve watched other guys mix and spend half their time searching the board for the guitar fader, only to miss the solo. 

Regardless of how you choose to layout the console, once you come up with a plan, stick with it. Adapt and change as needed, but maintain as much consistency as you can.

Small Digital Consoles are Tricky

The current trend toward smaller mixers (i.e. fewer faders) with higher channel counts makes smart layout absolutely critical. If you only have 16 handles to deal with, you simply must be intentional about what you put where. In that case, I would most likely not use up the first 8 faders on the top layer for the drums. 

In that case, it might be more prudent to put a drums VCA on channel one and treat it as one instrument (which, arguably, you should do anyway). As you fill up your fader bank and channels spill into another layer, it is often a smart idea to duplicate a few channels on every layer. For example, you might want to have the worship leader’s mic on the same fader of every layer so you can get to it quickly regardless of the layer you’re on. 

The fewer faders you have, the more strategic you need to be with grouping channels into VCAs. How  you group the channels will be dependent on your band and your workflow. 

I once mixed a 28-input CD release party on 12 faders. I built multiple layers that were very similar, but expanded various sections. For example, layer one had the drums as a single VCA. But layer two gave me all 8 drum channels. Layer three split out all my effects, which were a single VCA on layer one. Things that didn’t get used often were down on layers four and five, but the lead singer’s vocal and guitar were always in the same place on every layer. 

I spent about 30 minutes initially setting up the board, then tweaked my layout during rehearsal based on how the set unfolded. Of course, this is easier with a digital board than analog, but the principles remain. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Next week, we’re going to revisit the concept of input sheets. I’ve written about them before, but I think the topic bears repeating. Plus, I have some new stuff to share. Have a great weekend!

“Gear

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