Being a Drummer in NYC? Advice/Experiences needed!

DrummingIsArt

Junior Member
I graduated from undergraduate music school 3 years ago and am thinking about returning to school to study drum set. I went to school in Milwaukee, WI, and since then have moved to Denver, CO.

I am not happy with the scene in either city and would like to move to somewhere that has a bit more life in its live music presence. NYC seems to be the place, for me. I'd like to be able to make connections in a city where I could live for several years after graduating and be an integral part of the music scene. Right now, my eye is set on the Manhattan School of Music because John Riley (author of The Art of Bop Drumming) is part of the faculty, and a complete badass drummer and teacher!

I am interested in any experiences/advice that drummers currently living in NYC have for someone who will be new in town. Do you have your own kit? Does anyone rent practice space? Do most gigs provide a house kit? Do you travel with your cymbals on the subway? Does anyone practice at full volume in an apartment building, and if so, what are the consequences? What is it like to live in Brooklyn and commute to Manhattan for gigs? What kind of gigs do drummers regularly play, mostly jazz?

Also, has anyone else studied drum set, percussion, or composition in NYC? If so, where did you go to school and what were your experiences like? Has anyone been to the Julliard school for Jazz?

I would love ANYTHING at all about your experiences in the city. Treat me as though I have never been there before (even though I have) or like I am a 4-year-old who needs help understanding the simple details you take for granted!
 

Living Dead Drummer

Platinum Member
I lived in NYC for a while,
If your a Jazz/Fusion guy or your into playing rock that isn't main stream and will never get radio play you will be fine. I was working steady as a hired gun there, but I didn't enjoy any of the music I was playing. Guys in NYC are super talented, but like to show that off by adding a lot of things into songs that don't belong just for the sake of being "artistic".

I left the city, saved up some cash and moved to LA and I have never been happier.
 

BrewBillfold

Silver Member
I've been based out of New York City since 1995. Some points based on your comments and questions:

1. An important part of the equation for New York City is how wealthy you are. If you already have a decent amount of money, or you've got rich and generous parents or something--like a trust fund kid--then New York will be enjoyable off the bat, whether you're gigging a lot at first or not. If not, then you can basically bank on New York being a struggle at first. You won't be able to afford a place in or near the city, at least without roommates (and a few of them), you'll probably have to work your butt off at high-pressure, entry-level jobs for not much pay relative to your expenses, etc.

2. There are lots of great music schools here. They're almost all ridiculously expensive in my opinion. The ones that aren't so expensive aren't going to be any better than going to your local state-run university. If you can afford to go to the good schools, though, then what I mentioned above shouldn't be too much of a worry for you.

3. There are basically two ways to work a lot right in the New York City metro area as a drummer--either (1) do union gigs, or (2) do gigs with a band doing original material. Unless you already have extensive connections, people who owe you or family members favors, etc., (1) is extremely difficult to break into. It can be done, but it takes a lot of work--in the sense of working on building connections--and a lot of time. You're unlikely to get steady union work, if any at all, for a number of years. (2) is easy enough to do. However, with (2), you will not make ANY money. Clubs do not pay original bands to play, unless you're someone famous. In fact, in many venues, the bands have to pay the clubs to play instead. That's because there are so many bands that want to play original music here, they can easily find ones to fill up their calendars who are willing to pay for the chance to pay. Unlike other parts of the country, New York City has no significant "cover music scene". There are no places in the immediate metro area where you're going to get hired to do covers for a few sets a night.

Now for some of your questions:

* Do you have your own kit? Yes, I've got more than one kit. Some places will have a house kit, but you can't count on that. And almost all original music gigs are at places with no house kit. So if you're not going to have a car (and there's a whole host of issues with that), then you'll either need a small and light enough kit that you can carry all at once, including down staircases, through turnstiles, etc. on subways, or you'll need to use cabs to and from gigs. I've got a car here.

* Does anyone rent practice space? For practicing on my own, I use (a) an electronic kit (that's what I use 90% of the time for this), and (b) pads on an acoustic kit. Depending on the kind of apartment you're in, you may need to okay even that, okay practice times, etc. with the neighbors. I'm on a higher floor in a building where the downstairs neighbor's ceiling shakes, they get a bunch of vibrations, etc. when I play on my electronic kit--just from my motions on the pedals, the vibrations from the sticks on the pads, etc. Renting practice space otherwise is more a situation where you might rent a few hours per week with an original band--I've been in a number of bands that did that. You're not going to rent something like a warehouse where you can keep your kit all the time--there really is nothing like that right in the city (at least that would allow a drumset that you'd play). If you're doing union gigs, you do not need to worry about it unless you're the contractor.

*Do most gigs provide a house kit? Answered that already. Most do not. But even for the ones that do, you're pretty much talking about union gigs, which you're unlikely to get for awhile.

*Do you travel with your cymbals on the subway? I've never tried taking drums on the subway. I have a friend who has a small light setup, though, where he can strap himself up and take his entire kit on the subway at once. The most I ever did was take a bass and amp on the subway--I also play bass (and keyboards) and have gigged on them as well. I tried not having a car when I first moved up here, but I soon realized that it would be much easier, and not that much more expensive for me to have one. (Since I was using cabs or sometimes renting cars for drum gigs, etc.)

* Does anyone practice at full volume in an apartment building, and if so, what are the consequences? That would pretty much be impossible without the consent of not only everyone in your building, but possibly a number of surrounding buildings, too, and that's unlikely to happen. It would also be tough if you've got a number of roommates. I've done three things with original bands I've been in: (1) We've rented rehearsal spaces, which are generally dedicated for music rehearsal, and thus have some soundproofing, or are in industrial sections, etc., (2) We've played at lower volumes at someone's apartment or condo, often using my electronic kit, etc. (3) We've known or had someone in the band who lived further from the city, so that they were in a "normal" house in a suburban area. For other gigs--like union gigs, sessions, etc., any rehearsal has either been at a dedicated rehearsal space or in some performance area--some hall, or a recording studio, or whatever.

Re music schools, I did that in Florida instead.

Oh, and one question I think I overlooked--you asked something about the types of music folks are playing. For original music gigs, theoretically you could find people doing just about anything imaginable here. However, that's more the ideal state than the reality. The majority of original bands I've run into lately are kinda indie-oriented. They tend to be more musically conservative than I had hoped before I moved here. For union gigs, you've got the typical society-kinda gigs you could find in most major cities, plus stuff like showtunes gigs (obviously, with Broadway, off-Broadway, etc.), some sessions, etc. Those are very, very difficult to get into, however. If you were a keyboardist/pianist or guitarist, say, who could do solo gigs, there are a bit more opportunities.

My basic advice, by the way, is this: If you're going to school up here, if you can afford the good schools, that's great. You'll have a good experience at them and start making some connections at them right away. Otherwise, NYC is not really a good place to come without connections to try to gig a lot or get further ahead. If you do not have connections, chances are that you won't even gig much for the first few years. If you do not already have a lot of money, chances are that you'll get stuck in some other job just to make your rent. If you're considered one of the top players where you are, chances are that you'll just be another fish in the pond here. You can move past that, but it takes a LOT of work. If I had to do things over again, I would not have moved up here when I did. Although I'm doing okay now--15 years down the road--for years, I had more opportunities, and I was making far more money playing where I had been based previously--South Florida. When I moved up here, I basically had to completely start over, from the lowest level. That happens with a lot of people. This was despite the fact that I am not a complete unknown--I had been in bands that made albums, I had been on the road, etc., and I even had a few connections here--including a couple who I thought had been pretty good friends elsewhere, in other situations, and once I got here, it was hard to link up with them. They pretty much ignored me. I think that it's so competitive here, and people get so wrapped up in trying to further themselves that it can be difficult maintaining your connections here.

Also, depending on what part of the industry you would want to get involved with, NYC is not necessarily the best choice.

I hope that's not too discouraging, but I think a lot of people head here with stars in their eyes, whereas it's really a very tough, unforgiving, and EXPENSIVE place to try to make it.

Still, I love it here enough that I'd ideally live here at least part of the year for the rest of my life (I'd like to be able to do that and live in a couple other places, too--maybe spending four months in each place). There can be times when you're here that you hate it, you need to get away from the crowds, etc., but if you're here for awhile, there's a good chance that once you're away for very long, you'll feel that you can't wait to get back.
 
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zakhopper316

Silver Member
i go to school here in NYC. im only 20 years old and still live with my parents so i cant really help with the financial aspect except to say that every day things are really expensive. and you will probably have to quit drinking also. however i can comment on the music side of things. there are alot of musicians ( most not very good) that are trying to do things so if you look hard enough and put the work in you can probably get some kind of a cover/ original group together that is worth something. there are also a lot of music venues to play at from bars to festivals.

surviving of music is possible here but getting a high profile gig on a show like SNL or letterman is another thing all together.
 

dale w miller

Silver Member
I moved to BKYN with all the same thoughts you had. I had one or two leads when I came in, but neither panned out.

Ask yourself before you even come here, are you here for the art or to make money? I found it very difficult to do both. If making $125-$200/gig is your goal, then I do not see it being much a problem. You can very easily demand yourself to be paid by every singer-songwriter that plays in Manhattan and there are tons of GB gigs available as well, just continue to network yourself. I just cannot tell you that it will be rewarding.

If not, focus yourself on finding a high paying job that is flexible for touring & the like.

I joke, but it's sort of true, I can more or less trickle all of my gigs that have been worth anything to 2 people I met. I can say this is true with everything but my free improv gigs. You cannot imagine the amount of crap I plowed through just to meet those 2 people. I literally walked out on one audition after shaking a lawyers hand before I even met the band, because quite frankly it was too cheesy for me and one gig was so awful I literally messed up in the middle of the second song we were jamming on purpose just so I could politely tell them "it wasn't for me".

I have a very honest outlook on the music industry, even with all the great things I have accomplished. I just think you will find out that more people in the industry are making money in other ways, even ones you all know by name that are sitting at the tables at the NAMM signature booths.
 
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