Notes from the road: Sarah Landau, lighting designer

Photo By: Simon Westgate

The music industry is a traveling one and the touring professionals within the music industry are the focus of Notes from the road. My first Notes from the road story profiled sound engineer Mike Babcock. Now that the summer music festivals are firing up, so are the engines of all those vans and buses that bring touring acts to your city. Musicians and their crew members intrinsically know travel. Today I’m introducing you to a lady who has been gallivanting across the globe for years by way of her work in the music industry. Folks, meet lightning designer Sarah Landau. She’s done lighting for artists like Jason Mraz and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Get to know her and maybe one day, if you’re lucky, follow in her footsteps.

%Gallery-123835%1. How did you get started in lighting?

I was a theater nerd in high school, so signed up for some theatre classes my first semester in college, one of them was Lighting 1. I had an amazing professor who inspired me to view light as an artistic medium–the stage as a canvas. After college i worked in community theatre and off-off broadway in NYC. While living in Brooklyn, I got a dayjob at a production company where old-school roadies gave me on-the-job training in all the practical skills I needed to build a lighting rig. Working weekends at a music venue, I learned how to program and operate lights for lots of different kinds of music. Though professional referrals I got my first and subsequent tours.

2. How do you work with music to create designs?

It all begins with intuition. I interpret the vibe of the music into a visual vocabulary of style, colors, brightness, shadows, backdrops, and lighting positions to get a general concept. That’s then tempered by logistical constraints of budget, size of venues, crew size, etc. Once the design is in place, it’s a matter of choosing which elements of a song necessitate cue changes in lighting, and what those changes consist of–again, a largely intuitive process, with some trial-and error to see what works and doesn’t. Timing the lights to perfectly match tempos is easy, but it’s way more satisfying to tap a button along to a drum beat, and play the lights like an instrument, live.

3. when did you first start travelng for work?

I got my first tour in 2006. Since then, Ive been on the road an average of about 7 months of the year. I quickly realized I didn’t need to keep an apartment, and put my belongings into storage. When I have time off, I rely on craigslist and airbnb for sublets. Without a homebase to worrry about, I live wherever I feel like it. It’s often NYC that I feel most at home, but I’ive been able to try out lots of other places–Vancouver and Melbourne being my favorite livable cities so far.

4. Who have you worked with?

I’ve toured with Brand New, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gossip, Beach House, Jason Mraz, Glassjaw, All Time Low,The Jesus and Mary Chain.

5. Any tips for bands looking to hire a LD?

Make friends with house LDs at the venues you play and/or check out youtube of your past performances–if a show looked particularly awesome, get in touch with whoever was running your lights at that venue, and see if they’re available!

6. Hygiene secrets for the road?

Flip flops for sketchy dressing room showers. Baby wipes for days you don’t have a shower. Lots of extra socks. I always bring along a sachets of lavender–one to toss in with dirty clothes, and another one for my bunk. Additionally, earplugs are necessary if there is a snore-chestra in the tour bus at night.

7. Favorite places so far?

Touring has taken me to 6 continents, usually always big cities: some of the highlights have been Lima, Tokyo, Ljubljana, Casablanca. But one of the biggest perks of my job are the free flights to and from the tour–they provide the perfect opportunity to tack on travel for pleasure at the beginning or the end of a run, by flying out early, or delaying my return, or just using the flight “home” to go somewhere else cool instead. With this method, Ive been able to go to many more places–New Zealand, Estonia, Copenhagen, Iceland

8. Where are you hoping to go that you havent?

I want to see more of Africa, South America, Russia, and China. I also need to get up to Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, so I can say I’ve been to all 50 states. The Azores, Canaries, and Galapagos Islands are on the top of my to-do list, as well. And of course, Antarctica, so I’ll have been to every continent.