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.

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20 tips for surviving a summer road trip, courtesy of touring musicians

Road trips are made for summer. Summer is made for road trips. I’m a musician with several tours under my belt so, yeah, you guessed it, I love road trips and summer. But braving the heat while living in an automobile isn’t very cool if you aren’t prepared. Before you pack your vehicle so tight you can’t open the backseat doors without spilling pillows and sun block all over the scorching rest stop parking lot, make sure you have your summer road trip bases covered.

Summer’s biggest pitfalls aren’t mysterious. Mostly there’s the heat and the sun, which can be two separate problems to combat. Precisely how to conquer the road while dodging the wrath of summer is a practice best perfected by experience, so here are some tips birthed from experience, not in any intentional order.

1. Plan your route wisely.
Where you’re going matters. As you might suspect, planning a summer road trip that will take you through the South is dangerous territory. With that said, I’ve done it, plenty of people have, but be mindful of the regional summer climate when planning your summer trip. Give yourself more time for rest than you think you need. The heat has a way of corroding away a traveler’s soul. If you think you can manage full-day drives during the summer, that’s fine, but make sure your schedule is flexible.

%Gallery-121060%2. Prepare your vehicle.
It’s absolutely essential that you make sure your vehicle is adequately prepared for a summer road trip before embarking on one. If your air conditioner is broken, get it fixed. If the car’s interior material is the kind that easily gets sticky and hot, bring thin sheets to cover the seats with. And oh yeah, those windshield sun blockers? Definitely a bright idea. Aol Autos has a good round-up detailing how to prepare your car for a summer road trip here.

3. Pack the right stuff.
What you pack will prove to be important during a summer road trip. During any road trip, no matter the season, what you bring along with you more or less accounts for your home for the trip. When road tripping, your vehicle is your home. Remember that. Aside from the regular to-bring items (first aid kit, anyone?) a few essentials to remember when packing for a summer trip are:

Sun block
Sun hat
Bug repellent
A cooler
Swim suit
Beach Towel
Sun glasses
Light clothing
Water bottle

But the real question to ask yourself is: what helps you feel comfortable in the summer? If having an on-the-go folding beach chair around has been handy for you in the past, go ahead and slide it into your trunk if there’s space.

Dean Herrera, guitarist for metal band, The Human Abstract, is especially behind including a swim suit on the pack list.

“Always have some swim suit ready to go. You never know when you might drive by an unexpected river or lake that would be perfect for a quick dip”, said Herrera when I asked him for his own summer road trip tips.

4. Avoid afternoon driving.
Tolerating the heat, especially in the South, can be a challenge. Avoid driving in the height of the afternoon if you have a chance. People siesta for a reason in warm places! You should take this tip via tradition to heart. Drive at night, dawn, or dusk for the most pleasant temperature and traffic-free experience. Not only will you be more comfortable, but you’ll probably save a little on gas money while you’re at it (it takes less gas to cool your car when the outside temperature drops).

5. Stay clean.
It’s easy to become a stinky sweaty mess when traveling during the summer. Deodorant is important, but it won’t ward off all of the nasty scents of summer road tripping. I used to always have my shampoo, conditioner, and a jug of water around so I could quickly wash my hair in a parking lot if necessary. But public showers do exist.

Truck stop showers are typically very clean”, says Anthony Shustak. “Don’t be afraid to use them if you need… just be sure you’ve got some sandals”. Anthony Shustak is a touring veteran who has traveled with acts like Meg and Dia and LIGHTS as an engineer, tour manager, and general-good-guy-to-have-around.

6. Protect your engine.
“If your van or car is on its way to overheating and you don’t want to or can’t, stop, blast the heater and open the windows. It helps keep your engine slightly cooler”, says Herrera who, at this point, has probably circled around the United States in a van enough times to equally circle to world a few times.

7. Stay rested.
“Sleep!”, says Shustak. “Coffee only does so much. So, before you get to the point on that 14 hour drive when you’re on your fourth cup of coffee in six hours and your arms are shaking, pull the car over and take a nap! Even if it’s just half an hour”.

8. Tune in and tune out.
Shustak has some advice on which electronics matter. “Have a fully stocked mp3 player, a camera at the ready, and turn your phone off for a day or two–or at least limit yourself to one or two “message checks” per day. Your e-mails will miraculously still be there when you wake up the next day”, he suggests.

9. Embrace the road less taken.
“Make sure to go off the beaten path, advises Shustak. “Don’t be scared of the locals. Ask questions… especially when it comes to finding out the best places to eat.

10. Get some alone time.
You’re much more likely to want to strangle your travel companion, be it your spouse, colleague, or Craigslist rideshare partner, while crammed up together in a hot car for hours upon hours each day. Make sure to take breaks from your road buddy as frequently as possible, even if just for 15 minutes.

11. Know your territory.
And know what comes with that territory. Read up and know the dangers of the area at hand. If the bear population is high, for instance, be sure to be mindful of where you place your food and trash while parked.

12. Stay hydrated.
Keep yourself hydrated with cold beverages while driving. Think about it this way: every cool drink you down is another step up and toward a cooler temperature–particularly important if your car has an irreparable broken air conditioner (which is incredibly inconvenient if you live in Austin, FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE).

13. Use an umbrella.
Protect yourself from the sun’s rays, especially mid-day. If you hate lathering on sun block and don’t see the point in covering your body with it when you’ll be in the car most of the day, just use your umbrella when you stop for a walk to stretch your legs. It’s much easier than worrying about the lotion.

14. Pack light.
Shustak’s packing tip is all about how much you pack.

“Mainly, for me, it comes down to packing lightly and efficiently. If you are on a trip longer than a month in duration, pack for 10-14 days and use your opportunities to do laundry during any downtime”, says Shustak, who undoubtedly knows the value of staying with a washer/dryer-owning friend on the road.

15. Eat healthy.
An easy way to make sure you feel like crap while traveling is to eat crap. I realize old habits die hard, but some fresh fruits and vegetables just might be your answer to staying happy and healthy on the road.

16. Entertain yourself.
Cruising across states is fun and the landscape views are great. But you’ll eventually get sick of looking out of the window and when you do, you’ll need a way to entertain yourself. Be sure there’s no shortage on entertainment options. Books, notebooks, sketchbooks, jewelry-making supplies, knitting tools, dvds for your computer, video games, iPod and headphones… you know what you like, so pack accordingly.

17. Bring camping supplies.
Sometimes you need to stop in towns where you don’t have any friends you can stay with and your money needs to go toward gas, not hotels. It’s no big deal, just camp! If you can squeeze at least a tent and a sleeping bag in your vehicle, do it. Having the ability to sleep comfortably anywhere when you need to stop will enhance your overall road trip experience this summer.

18. Have your contacts saved.
Phones get stolen, broken, and lost. Make sure you have a list of your contacts, especially your emergency contacts, saved elsewhere. I suggest online, on your computer, and in a notebook.

19. Keep someone in the loop.
I was a little annoyed summer of 2007 when the folks who care about me back home called Wyoming hospitals to see if I’d been in an accident after not hearing from me for days. Truth be told, I was just camping in Yellowstone without phone reception and I should have kept someone in the loop. But at least these folks, my parents, were in the loop enough to know which area of the country I was in. Make sure you’re keeping someone you trust up to date on where you are and where you plan on going.

20. Bring an actual atlas.
“Have an up-to-date road atlas”, says Shustak. “Surprise, surprise… the GPS and/or Google Maps are not always accurate”.

Have some tips I missed? Let us all know in the comments.

Notes from the road: Mike Babcock, sound engineer

There are plenty of jobs out there suitable for vagabonds seeking a paycheck. You’ll find these jobs throughout many different industries, but music industry jobs are often at the top of the Jobs That Will “Make” You Travel list. The world of touring musicians and the team of people employed to support them is surprisingly small. Through my own music playing and touring, I’ve gotten to know all types of music industry professionals–most of whom travel regularly.

Notes from the road is a new series on Gadling. I’ll introduce you to music industry folks and let you watch as I pick their brains. From advice on how to get their job to travel tips to personal stories, it’s about time we learned more about the travel behind the music.

Our first set of notes comes from Mike Babcock: professional sound engineer. He’s done sound for a long list of performers, including Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, B.B. King, and Pantera.

ES: Can you tell us some bands/musicians/tours you’ve done sound for?

MB: Going back 20 years, this might take a while. In some way, shape or form, I have most likely worked with, for, or around every major touring artist. But seriously I have had my favorites over the years. Such as: Brand New, Rob Zombie, Pantera/Damage Plan, Paramore, Sevendust, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, BB King, Atreyu, Killswitch Engage, Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival, etc. I’m sure you can tell that I have a rock and metal background.


ES: How did you get into doing sound professionally?

MB: When I was in high school, I was in a local band, called Ubiquitus (the name wasn’t my idea). We booked a show at the local 4H building. Being in high school on a fast food job budget, we didn’t have much money for sound and lights. A friend of a friend owned a sound company, so I booked him to do the show with us and asked if there was any way to get a discount. The answer was to help him load his van and help set up the equipment on the day of the show. During the week after the show, he called me up and asked if I wanted to help him out the next weekend on another show he was doing. I agreed and the rest, they say, is history. I spent the next 4 or 5 years working for him and a couple other companies before I got an offer to move to Florida for a sound company that I would eventually work at for 12 years as their production manager before I took my first tour.

ES: What do you remember the most about your first tour?

MB: Being nervous and really quiet, hahaha. My first tour was with the band Brand New, it was actually 2 separate week long tours a few weeks apart from each other. The first tour was in a van in the northeast. Worcester, MA, Charlotte, NC, somewhere in Jersey, etc. I remember not packing a jacket. I lived in Florida and it was in the 80s and 90s every day so I just didn’t think about it. Learning the weather for wherever I’m going to be was the first lesson I learned on tour. The second leg of that tour was in the UK opening up for Incubus. I don’t know if I learned anything on that one, but it was the first subway ride of my life.

ES: You’ve shared small quarters with many people while touring. Any tips for achieving some level of privacy while traveling with others?

MB: Yes, spending 3 months straight living in a 45 foot house with 12 other people takes a lot of skill and even more patience. When you have that many people in such a small space, trying to find any sense of privacy is really hard to do. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, at all times. The rule I always make sure everyone knows is that my bunk is MY space. Once I close the curtains, I am no longer on the bus. The only reason anyone should invade my space is if the bus is on fire, we’re at a border crossing, or somehow I overslept (which rarely ever happens).

But really, each band, crew, and touring party has their own flow. Some people will hang in the front lounge watching TV, some will hang in the back lounge listening to music, some will sleep every possible second they can. I usually find my rhythm within the flow pretty easily and even if there’s someone in the bus I would rather not be around, there’s always a way to avoid confrontations. I’ve been lucky in that I have never seen anyone “duke it out” over petty differences and it’s nice when adult aged people act like adults.

ES: Have any tips for touring bands in terms of how they treat the house sound guys?

MB: Karma works well here. What you put out to the world will come back to you threefold. I think someone once said that “winning is contagious, but unfortunately so is losing”. I take that to mean that even if someone is having a bad day, don’t let it get you down, let your good mood and you having a good time be the contagious part of the day. Don’t take your bad day out on the locals. Be thankful you even have a gig in this economy and be nice to everyone you work with. Everyone gets special treatment. People not only remember the assholes, they also remember the people they really enjoyed working with, too.

I also try to leave something behind, a bit of knowledge I can pass on, or funny experience they will tell their friends for years to come. I just try to make it as fun, enjoyable, and stress-free as possible so everyone can just relax and have a good time. I’ve found that I really enjoy going back to the same clubs and working with the same people over and over again, and I know they feel the same way.

ES: You’ve traveled with pretty expensive gear. Any advice on how to safeguard valuables while traveling by van, bus, rv?

MB: Before the tour, you need a written copy of everything, with serial numbers and value, on file. Also, make ONE person responsible for the keys and ensuring the doors are locked. You can not trust that the lead singer will hit the right button after he gets off the phone. For trailers, use a locking ball hitch and install lojack or something similar into the van AND trailer so in the event that someone does take your trailer, you’ll know where it is. Don’t leave valuables, like GPS, iPods, laptops, guitars, etc. sitting around in the van. Keep everything close by at all times. Don’t park the van where there are no street lights. It all sounds like pretty common sense, but I see people do not so smart stuff all the time. I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t had a trailer stolen, but many of my friends have not been so lucky. I feel many of the times I’ve heard about stolen gear it was either due to someone not locking the van or a shady hotel in a shadier neighborhood.

ES: What about flying with expensive gear? Any sort of beneficial insurances worth purchasing? Tough cases worth buying? Etc.?

MB: When shipping gear, or flying with gear, having real road cases are worth their weight in gold. There are a ton of good case companies–R&R Cases and A&S Cases both come to mind for more traditional road cases. Pelican comes to mind for a plastic style of tough case. Just look for quality craftsmanship. I ship gear with a reputable cartage company, such as Sound Moves or Rock-It, and rarely ever have to even think twice about it showing up safe and sound. Sure, every now and then there’s an issue, but a reputable company that works exclusively within the industry is the best way to go. They understand why something can’t be a day late, or even a few hours late.

ES: Traveling as part of your job has probably given you the opportunity to realize some dreams in your free time. Any memorable experiences you’ve had in places you visited for work?

MB: The more I travel, the more I realize I haven’t seen anything yet. The first time I have a chance to be in a certain place, I do tend to do the touristy type of stuff. I have taken pictures that have been taken thousands, if not millions of times before. Such as looking directly up at the Eiffel Tower, standing on a cliff over the Grand Canyon, statues of naked people holding a ship of some sort in Belgium, in front of the Sydney Opera House, holding a koala, etc. But the most memorable times are when I can just wander off and find something completely random, either alone or in a group. Like climbing a volcano in Hawaii, just because I had a few hours to waste before the dinner plans, or sailing on the Sydney Harbor, or taking a helicopter tour with 6 strangers and getting pictures very few others have, or finding that the hotel we’re staying in is hosting model tryouts and we enter in one of our touring mates as a potential model only to have him physically thrown out of the room almost immediately, or stumbling into a hotel in Portland to find that another band has already occupied the room who eventually turn out to become lifelong friends. Those are the moments you remember the most. Sometimes it’s fun and games, sometimes it’s hard work, but it’s always rewarding. I’m living my dream and I hope I won’t have to wake up for a long, long time.

ES: Is there any way you’re giving back to the music community?

MB: When I started touring, I noticed that music venue websites, in general, suck. They are built to bring in business, not supply the artists and crew with the information that they need. I decided to use some of my free time to build a website that was built not to bring business into the clubs, but to supply the crew and artists with only the information they need. For example: Where artist parking is, are there showers, do they have internet, what kind of PA and lighting system is installed, do they serve food or are we on our own. You know, stuff that the fans really wouldn’t be interested in, but is really good info to know if you’re playing there. What started out as a little hobby of mine, has since turned into a pretty big deal. I have over 1000 venues listed, mostly in the US, but also in 7 or 8 other countries as well. It’s still a “hobby” but eventually I’d like to turn it into something that tour managers and production managers “have to have”. Check it out at

Think local for a low-cost wine-tasting trip

When most people think of going on a wine-tasting trip, their thoughts tend to head west – to California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s not surprising. From Napa Valley in California to Walla Walla in Washington, these states are some of the biggest producers of wine in the US. But if you don’t live in one of these states, there’s no need to venture far from home for a weekend of swirling and sipping. In fact, almost every state in the US has at least one winery, so you can enjoy a low-cost wine tasting vacation in a long weekend. Check out these wine-tasting regions in every corner of the country.

The Midwest states have traditionally been agriculture centers. Now many farms are trading potatoes and corn for grapes, and opening their doors to tourists. Illinois is home to around 80 wineries located on six wine trails within a few hours of Chicago. Most of Michigan’s 50 or so wineries are located in the west and southwest, near Traverse City or along the coast of Lake Michigan. Even Missouri has five wine trails scattered around the state.

New York’s Finger Lakes area is the jewel of the northeast wine region. Nearly 100 wineries are spread along three main wine trails, which surround four beautiful lakes. Not to be outdone, Maryland has almost 30 wineries open for tastings, and even tiny Rhode Island has five.

Kentucky is now making a name for itself in the wine world, with over 30 wineries clustered in the north central area of the state. Florida is home to over 15 scattered wineries and Virginia, the largest producer in the region, has nearly 150 wineries on several easy to follow trails.

Grapes in Arizona? Yep, there are over 20 wineries in the state, most just south of Tuscon. New Mexico has almost 40, most of which are clustered around Albuquerque and Taos, and Texas is home to over 80 wineries, predominantly in Hill Country, south of Austin. Colorado, which has over 60 wineries, boasts the highest grape-growing elevation in the country, and even Nebraska has more than 30 wine producers operating in the state.

Motel 6 goes for younger image, offers free stays to rock bands

When you think of edgy, hip places to stay, I’d venture a guess that Motel 6 isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But the budget lodging chain is hoping to change that with a new promotion – providing free rooms to a few up-and-coming touring rock bands. The marketing gurus at Motel 6 have asked the bands to blog and tweet about their stays, hoping that the buzz will build brand recognition and positive association among younger customers.

The bands, which were chosen by a music promotion company called Primary Wave Music, will receive six weeks of accommodation at Motel 6 locations along the tour routes. The bands aren’t being told what to say about Motel 6, but the company is obviously hoping for positive press. Even the budget motel has been hit hard by declining travel, with occupancy rates down 5-7% over the last year. Jeff Palmer, VP of marketing, is hoping the promotion will help get Motel 6 back on track, and earn the company some new, younger customers. “If they stay with us young, maybe they’ll remain brand loyal,” he said.

Rock on, Motel 6.