Monday, February 18, 2013

Move to New York?

I stumbled across this from a Huffington Post article from 2010:

Musician and author Patti Smith had some sound advice for fledgling artists thinking of moving to New York: don't.
According to Vanishing New York, in a discussion with writer Jonathan Lethem at Cooper Union on Saturday, Smith was asked if it was possible for young artists to come to the city and find the path to stardom that she did.
In response, Smith told the crowd, "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city."

This was the subway in New York in the 70's
I followed the link to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, a blog regarding the "changes" which have been occurring in New York since perhaps the late 80's and early 90's. Yes, New York is safer and more pleasant in some ways. But in other ways, the gentrification and the influx of bankers and wall street hedge fund managers into New York has made the city into a playground for the ultra-rich. (Bloomberg is blamed heavily in some earlier posts.)This means that any struggling artist would have his work cut out for him if he wanted to "make it" in New York.

Many of my students ask me: " Should I move to New York? Do I have what it takes to make it in New York?" For most of my students, the answer is no, and that's mostly because they don't have their musical stuff together.  But for those of my students who I believe DO have the potential to work in New York, I still hesitate. It's not that they can't make it in New York as a jazz musician; the question is, can ANYBODY make it in New York anymore?

I moved to New York in 1995. I played a lot around town, even though it took a few years to really get established. I played at Bradley's, Sweet Basil's, Small's, and a bunch of restaurants and smaller clubs in different parts of New York. Plus, I still went back to D.C. and Baltimore to work just to fill in the gaps. I also was starting to travel more. In fact, I would say for most of my career in New York, the bulk of my income was from touring Europe. Sometimes, I would be on the road for 50 percent or more of the entire year.

That all seemed to change after 9-11. Whereas in the 90's, tours could be as long as 9 weeks straight, or even 11 weeks straight, the 2000's seemed to whittle that down. Many of the great venues in New York closed, and the ones that stayed open became more and more competitive. Many musicians, including yours truly, started to be on the lookout for teaching gigs. In 2007, I attended Queens College to get my Master's degree, in the hopes that this would make a full time teaching position more possible.

When I first moved to NYC, my rent was 150 dollars a month. I had 5 roommates. I literally lived in a closet. Then I moved into a place with 3 other roommates. Now I had a child's room for 300 bucks a month. After about a year, I moved into my own one bedroom for $650 a month. That was in Park Slope. Nowadays, the rents in Brooklyn, let alone Manhattan, are astronomical. I have a friend who lives pretty far out in Brooklyn, way farther than Park Slope, and pays $1000 a month for a tiny no- frills studio. I suppose deals can be had, but it all depends on how you want to live.

I think some of the reasons to move to New York to play jazz are still there: more jazz musicians than anywhere else, a great way to make connections and be inspired, some jazz industry things going on, more venues than other cities. But actually making a living playing jazz in New York seems almost impossible. The gigs don't pay, and you are competing with so many other superb players for the same gigs. Also, I think the venues are not thriving the way they used to because the demand for creative music, or any live music, is not what it was. Bankers and hedge fund managers are more interested in cigar bars and high end sushi-fusion restaurants than jazz clubs.

If you have a lot of money saved, or you want to live far out in the outer boroughs, or even in New Jersey, (ha!), and you can consider working a day job until you start to earn money from gigs, then by all means, move to New York. You can hear incredible musicians every night, and New York is still a wonderful city. Even though some say that the city has lost it's character, I believe New York still has a lot of personality(more than most other American cities. Sorry.). But if you think it's going to be easy, you are delusional.

I still have desires to spend time in New York. However, I believe it's actually a lot cheaper to fly to New York a handful of times a year, and get small fixes that way, then to live there full time-WITHOUT a teaching gig(you dig?). That's the next thing I would recommend to aspiring jazz students. Try to spend as much time as you can in New York without going broke. Fly there a few times a year, see as much music as you can, try to play sessions, and soak up the atmosphere. Maybe try to meet, fall in love with, and marry a hedge fund manager, while you are at it.

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