Sound studio

During Sound Check, Caroline Polachek views her performance

For the singer-songwriter, the preshow ritual is a sacred moment to imagine his number in a given space.

I lived in New York for 15 years, so it was meaningful to perform here, as a coming-of-age moment as an artist. There were three very important fairs for me last year: one was at Greek in Los Angeles, which is a large amphitheater; so the rotunda in London, this huge ornate Victorian hall; and then Terminal 5 in New York, which I call the Death Star.

I hadn’t been here for about six years, and my memory had really inflated the size of the space. You know when you’re older and you go back to your college, you’re like, “Oh, this is so much smaller than I remember”? In my mind, Terminal 5 was this giant hall, but as I walked in, I felt very accessible.

Checking the sound is the first moment I get a feel for the space. Every venue is so different, whether it’s an old church or a well-equipped high-tech auditorium. My band and I will play a few songs to hear the piece. On a technical level, my sound engineer tries to determine what the resonant frequencies are, to avoid any feedback. I also use the time to rehearse while moving: During the actual performance, I often don’t see where the edges of the stage are, because it’s dark and smoky, which obviously can be dangerous. It’s time for me to get my bearings.

When you’re on tour, it’s also the time to make changes to your set, whether it’s lights, projections or vocal effects. I have to adapt because my voice won’t sound the same in every room. It’s quite different from the creative process of being in a studio, where you do more problem-solving or have control over the art. Sound checking is more like a ritual. You begin to imagine what the show will be like that night. That’s what being an artist is, as far as I’m concerned: trusting your imagination. I used to look at creatives and see their output as some sort of weather pattern generated by the world – something inherent – but the more I do that the more I realize nothing good ever happens without being imagined in the smallest details. Things don’t happen by chance. Things happen because people believe in them to the fullest.

During this sound check, I was actually trying to figure out what I was going to wear that night. I had two outfits that couldn’t have been more different: one was a very strappy black leather look, and the other was a fleeting white outfit. I was trying to visualize what might make the most sense. Of course, I went with black. It’s New York.

This interview has been edited and condensed.