Tracyan Martin is an Atlanta-based multi-instrumentalist most well-known for explosive keytar performances. Learn about her approach to performing and more.
Tracyan Martin is an Atlanta native, “Pop & Piano” creator, multi-instrumentalist and, first and foremost, an artist.
Her touring career began with Musiq Soulchild in 2009 and hasn’t slowed. Since then, Tracyan has served as Music Director for Melanie Fiona and Janelle Monaé, and she has worked with a myriad of artists including Monica, Darwin Hobbs, and Fantasia to name a few. Performances and featured credits include, The 61st GRAMMY Awards, Good Morning America, The Voice, Urban One Honors and Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour.
Tracyan’s debut single “Lifetime of Love,” featuring her on Vocals, Wurli and Trombone, reached the top 20 UK Breaking Artists charts. Amongst these accomplishments, she is also the Atlanta Chapter Lead for Jammcard and serves on the board for KIDDS Dance Project; a performing arts non-profit catering to at-risk youth the community. Tracyan has gained acclaim as a trusted industry hand with a "can-do" attitude, and passion for excellence. Her goal is to continue to inspire and “keep rising, rising, rising!”
What is next for Tracyan? She’s continuing to gain more opportunities that increase her skill set as a music director, most recently with the classic 90’s R&B female group, Brownstone. Also be on the lookout for the release of the first virtual reality concert with Ceelo, put on by Eyeora and a mini documentary about how she got into the industry by “The Road Dog Project”.
We recently spoke with Tracyan about her career as an artist.
Tell me about the keytar.
So, keytar, do play the keytar! First of all, it's always really funny when I pull up with the case and people are like, “Well, what is this?” I was like, “Well, it’s a keytar.” It's like, “what is that?”
So, it's like the guitar of keyboards in a way. People are usually like, “Oh yeah, it's from the ‘80s!” It was really big back in the ‘80s, but it's been resurfacing within the last eight years.
I've been playing keyboards most of my life—since I was 10 and I'm 33 now. So it's been a good deal of time. I was playing in a corporate band and corporate bands in Atlanta are really high energy and they wanted a show style. So the manager of the band said, “Hey, I’ve got this keytar, if you want to buy it you can.” And that was the beginning of my keytar career back in 2014.
Were you into the keytar right away?
I jumped right into it! So what I do is I go from my regular rig, which is maybe two to three keyboards, and then jump off from behind my rig, come up around and throw the keytar on. So there were no keytar lessons involved, there was just jumping into the show—let’s get right into it. And I played guitar a little so it was super hard trying to get into the motion and the technique of how you’re moving your hands or what’s happening here. So that kind of helped a little.
What do you think you enjoy most about keytar?
Let me tell you, what I love most about the keytar is that it automatically turns you into a superhero as an adult. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the adult toy. So what I’ll do sometimes, like in our shows, I’ll take my keytar off and I’ll give it to some stranger that doesn’t know how to play it and they just turn into a little kid, and that’s the superhero in us. That’s why I’m such a big kid.
I enjoy having fun and not being so static behind a keyboard set or behind the artists—with a keytar you become the artist. I think that helped me to really step out into being a frontperson more or less.
How do you feel the keytar translates when you’re performing on stage?
Well I think first of all, visually it's just one of those things when people see it, they're like, “Oh God, I remember seeing something like that.” And they're immediately enamored. So I like feeling like I'm cool, you know? Coming out from behind the stage, there's really a bit of a transformation in your mind. I think mentally what happens is you kick into gear because now you're really having to perform.
And also it's, it's honest. Whatever you're playing out front, people are going to be able to see that you're really playing because when we're behind stage or we're behind our keyboards, people don't know what you do, they just see the artists.
First of all, I'm an introvert. So I started as an introvert. This really made me come out of my shell. It's no way to really be in this industry—being uncomfortable out in the front. The keytar helped me push past that.
Do you feel like that helped you become an artist and grow as a performer?
I absolutely feel like playing keytar made me more of an artist and made me more confident. You have to consider if there's a guitar player, there's a drummer, there's a bass player, there's another keyboard player—no one's going to step out unless they've got a stand up kit or a guitar may step out, but this is the artistry for me.
You know, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, some of the greats actually play keytar, and when you consider these guys are doing it back in the ‘80s. It's something to look up to. And to now be the modern day—if you want to say,—Herbie or Chick, let that be that. And to represent a culture that was so big in the ‘80s and to bring it back, I’m an ‘80s baby, too. So it's real love.
How does it feel to come back to live music?
There are so many emotions that come with not doing live shows. There was a part of me pre-pandemic that was already planning to take a break. So that was a smooth transition for me.
But then there was a real part of me after touring for literally almost 11 years straight. I was like, “Wait, I should be doing something right now.” And finding what that is when there are no concerts happening, I think there was a level of not being fulfilled in that what I'd been doing for the last 11 years was fulfillment—going to see people, going to meet people, wanting to play for people. That brings joy to my life. So to not have it I felt like, “Okay, got it, I have to do something, got to replace what that was that I was able to give to other people.”
What do you get from that connection and having the experience in your life?
Just being able to get back into live music and connect with people. I'm a caregiver at heart. I like to say I give care. Mostly I find that it's the music where people get healing. People find it to be a mental break for them.
And so it's so much more than just doing the concert and playing the music. It's really intentional for me when I'm performing. There may be some little girl that's like, “Mommy, oh, I want to, I don't know what that is, but I want to do that.” You know, and being the blueprint that shows women are also doing music in the industry and they're not just doing it because of their gender, because they're incredible, they have a history of good work ethic.
These are the things that I’m really passionate about when it comes to coming back into it. I am so focused on making sure I send that message out, if not before I definitely am now. I’m doing it. Not just for the little girls, for the little boys, for the 70-year-old who used to play and wants to pick it back up. So to be able to remind people how music is such a beautiful thing and we can all come together if we’re doing this one thing. I’m so excited that things are opening back up because I feel that sense of fulfillment coming back now, that I can do this. This is what we’ve been doing.
What is your perspective like when you’re performing live?
I can give you two answers.
So there’s one point where I’m zoned out and when the show is over, I’ll come back to myself and I may not remember every little thing, but I’ll remember how I felt. And I could say that it was a great show just based off a feeling, even if I had mistakes, because I’m a human all day long. So I know if it felt good, but sometimes you end up not being able to really get into what the audience is doing. And sometimes it’s a good thing because the audience will just sit there and look at you, but they’re really enjoying it.
But then there are other times—back to the keytar—where I’m jumping out and I can actually engage and be a part of the audience and walk out.
I was doing a show with Fantasia and she said, “You can go out,” because we were just playing a soundcheck. It’s the time to explore and just do things that you feel like doing. So she saw me just walk on out and I’m a big kid again. So I’m out here playing, rolling around on the stage and she said, “Go do it.” So that was the first time in the history of my career that I actually got to go out and feel the audience and be part of them and let them touch a keytar. And, again, that’s about creating experiences that people will never forget. That’s going to be forever. After I’m long gone or I’m old and gray, they’ll say, “Remember that lady with the purple hair? She had this really cool keyboard.”
So the zone for me is one thing. But then again, just being able to have the audience show you love and then when you’re done with the show, you’re packing up, walking out, you walk out that back door and people are waiting for you. You know, of course they’re waiting on the artists, but they actually paid attention to me. They want to meet me. They want to get autographs. I’ve had someone cry before. Even if I don’t go down I still feel connected to the people because we don’t know what they’re coming for. Other than music, we don’t know what their day was. We don’t know what they’re dealing with. So we have to really give it our all and give back the energy that they may need. So I’m thrilled about what’s coming up with live music.
What are some of the challenges you face when you’re preparing for a show?
When I first started, no one gave me the rundown that rehearsals could run anywhere between eight to 12 to 14 hours in a day. I don’t know if you could have really made it make sense for me. What is it in those four songs in eight hours that we’ll accomplish? But then I learned that it’s so many aspects.
So for me as a keyboard player, sound design is really important. And I know a lot of people may think, “Well, all you gotta do is just turn the keyboard on and just go find a sound.” But I like to sit down and take the time to mess with the parameters and make it sound like the records. So if somebody asks me my favorite thing about keyboard, it’s not even the playing part, it’s literally designing the sounds to make them sound like the record.
Why do you feel it’s important to use IEMs?
Well, the importance of IEMs is—and this is going to be both profound and not profound—but to be able to hear literally. I hadn’t had in-ears until I started music with Musiq Soulchild, never knew it was a thing. What are molds? What is that? What is an audiologist? So going into that and having someone set you up for the ultimate sound within your head and giving you whatever you need has been golden for me.
What I like to do is pan guitar to the left a little. I learned that a little later in my career that I can do little things here and there to not make everything come at me, so I pan guitar to my left, keys straight up the middle, but that gives me a little clarity wherever I am on stage.
I was used to monitors, and I have a wedge here too, but to have monitors right here in my ears, considering that I’m jumping between horns and I’m jumping between keys. Think about if I jump off my horn, jump off stage—I’m no longer able to hear if I don’t have in-ears. So I love what in-ear monitors have brought to my life.
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