Most stage set ups are all the same, depending on the particular gear that the band uses. But in general, the drum kit is usually in the back of the stage, and then the amps of the guitarist and bassist are on their left and right. The singer usually is up front in the middle of the stage. Mix and match with additional instruments like keyboards, DJ turntables, the occasional stringed instruments, horns, additional backup singers, etc. The diagram of this that you send to the talent buyer or booker is called the Stage Plot. It helps the sound engineer know what to have ready when you arrive and how to properly set up all of the house equipment for what you are bringing.
The way the musicians hear themselves onstage is through several monitors set up around the front of the stage facing back at the performers. The audience doesn’t particularly hear what comes out of these monitors. The drummer usually has their own drum monitor at the back by their drums facing them. Unfortunately I have played several venues that, for some logic-defying reason, didn’t have a drum monitor at all. I couldn’t hear shit. Just my drums. I just had to basically know where I was in the song from counting in my head and playing the songs a few hundred times. Muscle memory put to the test. I also watch my band-mates’ body language. I watch for certain lyrics or guitar solos and their accompanying body movements to know where I am in the song. It’s challenging as hell, but sometimes you have to forge ahead even when you can’t really hear the other musicians.
But when you do have monitors, and 99% of the time you do, getting the proper mix can be heavenly, and you can actually hear the songs better than you ever do during practice. Each of these monitors is a powered monitor, meaning that it can be mixed just for the individual musician that it is aiming at, to help them hear what they need to hear onstage while performing. As a drummer, I usually make sure that the vocals are highest in my personal mix, followed by the guitars. I don’t ever need to hear myself (some drummers love to have their own drums high in the mix), but I do need to hear the bass guitar prominently. The bass guitar and the drums make up the rhythm section, after all. People cue off of different things. That’s why you each want your own powered monitor to blast back exactly what you need to hear.
So on this night I noticed an unusual set up at the music venue I was working at. Instead of the guitar amp being behind the guitar played aimed out at the crowd, the amp was lined up along the front of the stage, aimed away from the crowd and directly toward the guitar player himself. He was using his amp as his own powered monitor, and had it mic’d so it would be going through all of the house speakers as well. It also had two little hinged legs to hold it up at a 45 degree angle. Amps are almost always just set level on the ground, and monitors are usually angled or come in a wedge shape so they are aimed up at the ear-level of the musician needing it. This guy was cutting out the middle man and just using his amp as a monitor. Nothing wrong with this, as long as you control any feedback onstage from other microphones that might pick up too much of a signal from his amp. I didn’t see a vocal mic for him, so the potential for ugly feedback was nil. But having the amp at the edge of the stage always seems like a bad idea to me, as the crowd is right there and could accidentally bump it, spill a beer, or worse.
Sure enough, things got weird. About and hour into the show I was standing by the curtain to backstage monitoring the crowd, and I noticed some dude dance his way right up to the front of the stage. It’s sometimes hard to determine if someone is just really enjoying the music, or is actually intoxicated. So I watched him for a few minutes. He was singing along with the lyrics and obviously was a true fan of this band. I didn’t like him dancing that close to the precariously tipped amp, but he wasn’t doing anything that the rest of the crowd wasn’t doing. A member of the opening band walked through the curtain and chatted with me for a second, so my attention strayed from the dancing dude. When I looked back, he was absent-mindedly lightly tapping on the top of the amp, along with a pretty cool drum fill. Dude knew the drum parts too, but he can’t be touching the musical equipment like that.
I walked over to him and lightly tapped him on the shoulder. “Please don’t touch any of the equipment onstage.” He gave me a guilty smile and his eyes got wide. He made that gesture that you make when you don’t want any trouble and are sort of apologizing. The one where you raise your hands in a sort of “I surrender” wave. He honestly acted like he was afraid of me. I just said thanks and backed up to where I was standing previously. He continued to enjoy the music.
Until he touched the amp again. I was looking at the struts holding it up at the 45 degree angle. I had no idea how strong they were. I also could see into the back of the amp and noticed the tubes. Some amps are tube amps and require little cathode light bulb looking things to amplify the sound. I won’t get into all the details of how that works, mainly because I can’t, but suffice it to say that these little bulbs are very important to the functionality of the amp. I also remember reading that amplifier circuits, even when unplugged, contain voltages that can kill you. You can see where my worried mind was taking me with this.
This time I used my tactical flashlight to spotlight him. This draws unwanted attention to the person, and also effectively blinds them for just a second. I said more loudly, “Do not touch this amp again or you will have to leave.” He nodded and actually moved away from this area of the stage. I shook my head and returned to my station. I was starting to think that he was indeed drunk, or maybe just stubborn as a mule. It’s a fine line.
Then he was back. This time he actually reached over the amp and attempted to touch the knobs on the front. He could turn the main volume knob all the way off, or all the way up, or even unplug the cable. What in the unholy hell is he thinking? I moved right up to him and as I did I noticed the guitar player onstage also moving towards the guy. The guitar player saw this dude trying to mess with his settings and lunged at the guy with his guitar, as if to skewer him with the neck of it. While playing the song and not missing a note. At that exact moment I reached him and grabbed him firmly by his shoulders. I said very loudly, “YOU ARE LEAVING.” Then I spun him around so he was now facing away from me. I grabbed his shoulders again and started pushing him through the crowd towards the exit. I could have walked him out along the side, but I was pissed off at him and wanted to make a spectacle out of him. I pushed this guy all the way through the crowd towards the door. People moved out of our way making us a path. I felt several pats on my own shoulders as I did this. Other crowd members saw him screwing with the amp and glad I was evicting him from the venue.
We got to the door and we walked through, only to have him collapse to the ground like I tripped him or something. I actually laughed out loud and stepped over him. My two co-workers saw me walk this guy out and started coming towards him to help grab him if necessary. I explained, “He was messing with the guitarist’s amp after multiple warnings to stop. He’s out.” He got up slowly and walked out with me still holding one elbow and my co-workers flanking him on either side in case he made it worse. He just kept acting shocked like he was innocent and I was just some power-tripping security guard. He walked outside complaining and whining. I saw him go to the sidewalk and flip us off. But he didn’t come back.
I walked back into the venue and even more people gave me congratulatory back slaps and shoulder taps as thanks. Everybody was quite happy that I manhandled that drunk idiot out of here after interfering with the musician’s gear during a performance. And I kept thinking, that dude paid money for this concert. He totally loved the band and knew their material. And he then proceeded to do the one thing that you never do at a concert. Screwed with the equipment. And so he got booted out for it. What a fool. I hope he left his jacket here. I hope he left his credit card here and didn’t close out his tab. And I gotta admit, when I got back to my station at the curtain I looked around at the crowd confidently and thought, “Who’s next?” There were absolutely zero problems for the rest of the night.
After the show I had a brief chat with the guitarist. He thanked me for getting that idiot out of the venue. I apologized for not getting him out sooner. I was just kind of shocked that he was actually continuing to do what I specifically warned him not to do. The guitarist was in an international touring band and had a cool accent, possibly from Denmark or Finland. I told him I thought it was amazing that he almost stabbed the guy with his guitar. He laughed heartily. I wonder if that dumbass is actually honored that the guitarist from his favorite band almost skewered him from onstage. That could make quite an album cover.