King Salamander's kick drum mini bar

Unknown variable: the performance space

When you pull up to perform at a venue you’ve never played before, what’s going through your mind?

Maybe the set list. Maybe you’re stressing over what the attendance will be that night. Or maybe you’re worried that the place is a dive, or the lighting will be terrible, or the way the tables are arranged around the “stage” is going to make you look like a total amateur.

Well, your set list and your draw are both certainly up to you. The layout and ambiance of the room, you might think, are largely out of your control. BUT there may be a creative way to remove some of that uncertainty, and to convert even the most uninspiring room into a space where you control the vibe (which is pretty essential when you want to communicate your music and aesthetic to listeners).

The portable party

For instance, CD Baby artists King Salamander — yes, I think it’s a Doors reference — have built their own unique instruments so they can bring their musical party anywhere they go.

King Salamander’s sound is a blend of hardscrabble rock and sophisticated big band music, and their instruments are designed to create a kind of speakeasy atmosphere from the stage, including cigar box guitars, and a piano and a drum set that open into mini bars.

What’s your solution?

Now I’m not saying you need to head down to the garage with a soldering gun and convert your guitar amp into a spaceship or anything, but maybe it’s time to put some thought into how you can convert any stage or performance space into friendly turf.

For some artists it’s as simple as tying a bandanna to their mic stand when they step on stage.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings usually perform in front of a table with a tiny mysterious filing cabinet on top.

One of my friends covered her 88-weighted keyboard in fuzzy golden wallpaper.

Those are some of the minimalist solutions. Light touches.

But you can certainly try a heavier approach if it’s manageable: mini-bars, smoke machines, multiple projection screens behind the band, a cardboard computer mainframe costume that the singer hides inside (yes, I have a friend who does that too).

The point is, you know what makes you most comfortable and most nervous on stage. Try to find a way to bring that comfort with you wherever you perform.

How do you create the right vibe in the venues you play? Let me know in the comments below.

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