When it comes to planning musical events (and general events, for that matter), stages are an often-overlooked piece of the process.
That’s a bit alarming, considering how important stages are to the success of an event. Besides literally carrying the band, they are also influenced by music genre, event type, audience size, and many other things.
While you can’t always foresee everything that happens, one fact remains: the more you know, the more prepared you will be. In this article, I’ll share some practical advice with you concerning average stage sizes.
Table of Contents
- “Rule of Thumb” Estimates for Stage Sizes
- Guidelines for Calculating the Size You Want!
- Other Things to Consider
“Rule of Thumb” Estimates for Stage Sizes
Before getting into the nitty gritty of stage sizing, it’s helpful to see the big picture in broad-strokes. Most of the time, you will see size estimates based around the number of players in a band – which, of course, makes total sense!
Typically, they are arranged in four groups: solo/duo stages, small stages (for 3-6 players), medium stages (7-10 players), and big ensemble stages (for orchestras, etc.)
Here’s where things can get tricky: even if you’re looking at stages in a specific size, like “big” or “small,” you’ll find other sizes within those categories too.
Don’t worry. These aren’t entirely new categories; rather, they’re suggestions for the “minimum” or “maximum” area you’ll need for the size you’ve chosen.
Below is a list of the typical dimensions and area of each sized stage. As “rules of thumb,” they are not set in stone; rather, they are used as guidelines for your customized setup.
- Solo/Duo Stage: 8ft x 8ft (64 sq ft) minimum, 12ft x 16ft (192 sq ft) maximum
- Small Stage (3-6 people): 12ft x 16ft (192 sq ft) minimum, 20ft x 24ft (480 sq ft) maximum
- Medium Stage (7-10 people): 20ft x 24ft (480 sq ft) minimum, 24ft x 32ft (768 sq ft) maximum
- Large Stage (orchestra, jazz big band etc.): 24ft x 32ft (768 sq ft) minimum, 32ft x 40ft (1280 sq ft) OR LARGER maximum
In addition to the physical area, stages can also vary in height.
- Solo/Duo Stage: 2-4ft tall
- Small and Medium Stages (3-10 people): 4 feet
- Large Stage (orchestra, jazz big band, etc.): 4-5 feet
Guidelines for Calculating the Size You Want!
The “rules of thumb” listed above are great for brainstorming, but they won’t give you a lot of help with the details. Below are three tips that will help you narrow down your options.
Tip 1: Allocating Square Feet to Every Musician
One of the trickiest things about deciding stage size is figuring out how much space every musician needs. It also happens to be the most important factor in the process!
Instead of picking a full stage size out of the blue, try calculating space for every musician, then adding them together. Then, you can decide on a full stage from there.
Different instruments require different amounts of space, so let’s check them out!
- Electric Instruments: these guys take up a lot of space, since the instruments are attached to extra gear. Allocate 25-30 sq ft.
- Acoustic instruments: besides the occasional cable and/or amp, acoustic instruments require less equipment. Allocate 10-15 sq ft.
- Upright Acoustic Pianos: These guys need bench room, space to breath, and space to get around. Allocate 30 sq ft.
- Grand Piano: If you’re feeling extra fancy! Allocate 100 sq feet!
- Stationary Vocalist: Allocate 10 sq ft.
- Lead Vocalist: They’ll probably need to move around quite a bit. Allocate 30-50 sq ft.
- Drums: Aaah, the drums. They’re tricky. Usually, they’ll sit at the back. Sometimes, they’ll be raised even higher than the rest of the band. Because they have a lot of moving parts, they need space to breathe too. Allocate 50-70 sq ft.
- BUFFER ROOM: You’ll already calculate a lot of space for each instrument; however, you always want to ensure there’s a little more space, just in case – you don’t want things falling off stage! I would suggest adding space for one more person, just in case.
Tip 2: Know the Industry Standard for Single Risers
Of course, it’s impossible to move a giant stage in a single piece. Instead, stages are transported bit-by-bit. In the music industry, these “bits” are single risers.
When planning a concert, you’ll rent several single risers, depending on the number of musicians and calculations you did above.
Single risers usually come in just two sizes: 4ft x 8ft, or 6ft x 8ft. Both have an area of 32 sq ft and 48 sq ft, respectively.
With this knowledge, you’ll have to figure out two new things: first, how many risers you need for your allocated square feet. That’s simple: just take the square feet number you calculated above, and divide it by 32 or 49.
The second thing is a tad trickier, and leads us to the next section.
Tip 3: Decide on a Square or Rectangular Stage
You can arrange single risers as squares or rectangles. Both set-ups have their perks.
If you want to interact more closely with your band as you perform, a square would work best. You can arrange yourselves equidistantly and have plenty of space.
If you want your audience to have a clear view of you, a rectangle will be better. With the long side facing them, you can line up along the edge so they can see you better.
Other Things to Consider
Now that you have the numbers and criteria that go into calculating stage size, you’re ready to do the math yourself! However, numbers aren’t everything. Here are some other quick factors to consider:
Band Popularity and Audience Size
Band size is the most obvious factor when deciding stage size. However, your popularity and exposure are important too.
If you’re an up-and-coming band without a huge following, a small stage would work best. This allows you to save money and create a more intimate experience with your listeners. The better experience you can create, the more word-of-mouth marketing you’ll get.
Inversely, if you’re already well known, then go big! If you have the money and space to be louder and cater to a larger audience, you can deliver a great experience to a large audience.
Band Type, Musical Genre, and Event Type
Consider how loud your band is, and the type of audience you cater to.
For example, if you’re a folk trio, you won’t be very loud. As a result, you can afford to have a small stage and sit close together.
However, if you’re a punk band, then you might need a bigger stage so you’re not blasting each other’s ears off. Plus, a bigger stage lets the audience spread out more.
Audience’s View of You
“Vision lines” refer to the imaginary lines that connect audience members’ eyes to each person on stage. You want to be cognizant of what things the audience wants to see, and make sure your stage is high enough to make those things visible.
For example, many rock fans enjoy seeing guitarists and drummers. As a result, you might put your drummer on a higher stage, and put the guitarist next to the lead singer.
Your View of the Sound Booth
While playing, you will need to see the sound guys clearly. Make sure your stage is high enough to see them.
Some bands are perfectly content to sit in one place and play all day long. Others want to boogie. Still, others like to tinker around and switch instruments a lot.
Whatever your needs, always make sure there is enough room for gear and movement. It’s always better to estimate too big than too small.
With just over a thousand words, I hope I’ve given you enough practical advice to pick the best stage size for your next concert. As I mentioned, stage size is crucial to a successful performance.
If it’s too small, you won’t be able to perform. If it’s too big, you might blow your budget. If I had to choose though, I would err on the size of too big. Otherwise, you might not have any concert at all!
Whatever you do, take the extra time to plan everything out. It’s well worth the time.
Until next time, enjoy the planning, and always, ALWAYS have fun!