Dewey's New York

By Dewey Kincade

I would argue that every musician in Louisville has thought at one time or another of busting out of the 'Ville and heading to a big town to "make it". I'm no different. After a particularly dismal show in Louisville where I had played my heart out for three hours to an audience of seven and walked away with $13, I knew something had to change. My attitude was, if I wasn't going to get paid I might as well do it where I could get some exposure. So I moved up to New York City ready to hit the big time.

If you are considering moving on up to the east side, there are a few things that you should know. First, bring your band. Putting together a band in New York is unbelievably difficult. True, there are a ton of musicians that can play anything, but the really good ones are going to charge you. And the ones that don't aren't worth your time. It all goes back to the audience. A lot of New Yorkers go out three or four nights a week to hear live music and they've heard every stripe of musician from the good the bad and ugly and you simply can't "get away" with anything. If you've got a week guitarist, the audience knows it. With drummers it's different. Even a bad drummer is going to charge you money, because half the time he's going to have to take a cab to lug his stuff to the gig.

Another obstacle to putting together a band is finding a rehearsal space. Real estate is a precious commidity and most spaces that are worth rehearsing in are going to cost you $20 to $30 an hour. This can be a bit of a money drain, but most spaces will have a tube fender amp, a p.a. a marshall stack, a bass cabinet and trashy drum set. The drummer gets the short end of the stick (no pun intended).

If you want to try the solo singer/songwriter route you have an uphill battle. If you dropped a piano from the Empire State building chances are it would land on three singer-songwriters. They are everywhere. The upside to this is that there are a ton of open mic nights. The down side is that if you don't show up to the open mic nights early you are going to be playing at two in the morning to the emcee and the bartender. And let me tell you, listening to forty singer-songwriters in one night is enough to make anyone lose all their faith in love, happiness and "the system".

Actually, the way to make money as a solo performer is to play in the subway. You can make $20 an hour in the subway. I know some people who can make a living off playing in the subway. If you don't mind being drowned out by the subway cars every couple of minutes than it's a great place to try new stuff. Of course, if you're a singer you'll be lucky if you last two hours before your voice gives out.

There are some advantages to playing in New York. I have found that the people who do the booking are very good about listening to your demo and getting back to you in two weeks. Chances are you'll get a Sunday or a Monday night gig. At this point, it doesn't matter how bad you are (or how good). If you don't bring the people to the show, you will not play there again. Most clubs will have amps and a kit, because they know what a pain it is to lug that stuff around. Also, be prepared to play forty-five minutes. Period. You have to have a hell of a draw to get the coveted hour and a half slot. Or play in Jersey.

Going to all this trouble to play such a short set may seem lousy, but it's actually to your advantage. There's always a little crowd left over from the act before you and there are always people coming in for the next act in the middle of the set. So, every gig you do will have fresh faces who would like nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised at how good your band is. So if you're good, you will get noticed.

And then there's the audience. Playing in front of a New York audience may seem intimidating at first, but there's really nothing to be afraid of. There's a lot of bad music out there and New Yorkers hear more of it than anyone, so if you genuinely believe that you don't suck, than there's nothing to scared of. Plus the audiences are great. There's a real community in New York contrary to popular belief. There are so many artists in New York and they all know how hard it is. So there is a great deal of mutual support. Which means that if you want people to come see you play, you better get out and see your audience play.

Did I mention that you should bring your band? I'm going to repeat that because it's very important. A tight band coming into New York City has some distinct advantages. First, they don't need to spend that much money rehearsing. Second, New York is in close proximity to hundreds of places to play. Phillly is two hours away and Jersey and Long Island are always looking for talent. Just make sure you're playing five nights a week. Because if you're not, your drummer will be.

So if you're thinking of coming to New York City, don't. New York can't wait to eat you alive. You haven't struggled until you've struggled in New York. But if you're good- I mean really good- and music is your religion than take a chance. Everyone I know with talent that has stuck it out and perservered has been rewarded. It'll take a year of unrelenting hell, but it will happen. The audience knows what a pain in the ass it was for you to get to the show with a drummer and entertain them and when you're ready they'll reward you accordingly. So come on up, there's always room for one more.