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NYC bass Realities

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Robin Ruscio, Dec 12, 2004.

  1. Robin Ruscio

    Robin Ruscio Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2003
    Denver, CO, USA
    I’ve always considered moving to NYC, but the reality of it always seemed overwhelming, especially compared to the rather comfortable existence I’ve managed to carve out for myself here in Denver. But I’m increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity for my own musical and career development; to few venues, no interested audience, to many BS musicians. There’s not really anyone here that I want to study with that I haven’t already, and pretty much the came thing can be said about playing (not that there aren’t much better players here then me, by any means, but most of them got there stuff together elsewhere.) Anyway, I’m sure I don’t have to justify why moving to NYC is something any serious musician should consider (especially those with a largely jazz based background).

    Perhaps some of you already there could enlighten me as to what’s it’s like as a bassist there and alleviate my concerns, I’ll be more apt to give it a go. I have a few specific questions:

    1. Is it possibly to make a living on the bass without being a “name” player like Harvie S or John Patitucci? Is there really any sort of professional class of musicians who can make a living in such an expensive city? Or do you all have day jobs?

    2. The word out here is that typical gigs in NYC pay about the same as they do here ($75-100 for a club date, maybe $150-250 for a private event). I’m sure there are gigs that go way beyond that in NYC, but things you can do on daily or at least weekly basis.

    3. How do you get to your gigs? I can see taking the bass alone on the subway but what if you are doubling on electric or need to bring an amp, even a small one? Are musicians some of the few NY’ers that have cars and actually drive into Manhattan to play gigs? I have never had a satisfactory answer on this, so let me know what you do.

    4. Is it possible to teach privately? I found a huge hole in the teaching field for myself here in Denver and consider myself an ideal teacher for almost any student on electric or acoustic bass, but with so many great players around in NYC why would you want to study with someone who wasn’t seriously established? Or are there lots of students for all?

    Any other advice very seriously appreciated, pros or cons. Talk me into staying here, it would be so much easier. Also, if the basses and I can crash on your couch for, say, the first two years, that would really help as well.
  2. Small apartments, high rents, crowded trains. :D

    Seriously though, many players do pretty well for them self without being Harvey S or John Patitucci. You may need to live a bit out of the way or with other people. I get to and from gigs with my DB and a Polytone Teeny brute on the subway, I have small luggage cart for the amp. I have seen many musicians doing the same, just try not to gig too close to the rush hour. So far I've been lucky for the past couple of years, I haven't needed a day job, but from time to time things get a little tight. Being a student helps alot too.
  3. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    If you have that NYC bug and it seems like you will hate yourself if you didn't give it a go, then by all means go. What the hell else have you got to do that is better? Be aware tho that Miles ain't lookin for young talent right now, and that although cream rises, the music world seems lactose intolerant. Few of anybody except the very connected make much headway (if a serious career in jazz is your goal) and Yes NYC is chock %$#@!&$ full of exceptionally tatented lyrical, brilliant musicians, plus about a billion others whose talents are also very serious and whose dedication and desire to make it is equally as great,,,(and then there are the teachers...). Is it an education worth having?. Without question.
    When I was there I had a part time day gig, and a swiss cheese calendar, I lived in a dive in Williamsburg, 4 stops out, had a GK and a wheel and tried to learn more tunes so I could rip them out of the book to make it lighter. The neck of my bass stuck out cab windows, I am sure I have lost years off my life because of that stress. Winter sucks and summer is worse. And I'm an optimist!
    I went there to make a career and well, have you ever heard of me?

    But would I trade one second of the music I heard and played, the friends I made, the education and perspective I gained? no.I was there for six years, and loved every @#%$ed up minute. In fact I'd go back in a second if I had a gig. Meanwhile out here in LOCO land the players, aint all that bad and I really dig the chow up here...(slightly higher on the food chain)...
    The other good thing about NY is its a blue state.
    Piro Patton
  4. My thoughts are as follows, and take it wit a large grain of salt since I've never done it myself. There are two important questions to ask yourself:

    Are you married or otherwise attached? If you're by yourself, you can put up with the lower standard of living than you're accustomed to now, but dragging someone else into that situation would be a major consideration.

    How badly do you want to be there? If you've visited, hung in clubs, been inspired by the energy, you know what it's like. Do you have a burning desire to be a part of that scene - just to be around all that great music - it's got to be the most intense natural high there is. If you're mature enough and honest with yourself, you know whether or not you're ready musically.

    All that other stuff is just logistics. You'll figure it out as you go. As far as advice, if you're gonna do it, do it while you're young, and still have the energy to do all that hustling. Save up as much money as you possibly can, you'll want to live off of that at first so you can spend your time and energy networking and making as many sessions as you can. Also, it would likely be to your advantage to hook up with a quasi - big name player for some lessons. You'd be apt to make important connections that way.

    As a bass player, you're going to work, or so I've been told. Even as competitive as NYC is, there's always a demand for good upright bassists.

    my .02, IMO, FWIW, YMMV,YMCA, UMMG, ETC.
  5. Robin Ruscio

    Robin Ruscio Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2003
    Denver, CO, USA
    Yes, yes, this is good. I'm not feeling as young as i used to- (I'll be 26 in a few months, but i figure 8 years in the music industry makes me more like 30), way to experienced to be naive about becoming the next coltrane or whatever you think at 16. But i know i have some skills, i'm not afraid of any gig that might come my way. I do love the city, and not just for jazz- the fact that everything going on around you is happening at a high level appeals very deeply to me. If the right woman had come a long (she hasn't)- i can see where that might stop you, but i think i might be better off socially if not even financially or artistically if i just got in there with everyone who wanted to do something besides 9-5 corporate grind. I've actually been making alot of $ the last couple of years, and when i'm honest, i feel like it means very little to me, i sit at home after a hard week with 6 mediocre gigs and think i would've rather stayed home and practiced. So thanks for the sober encouragement, let hear anyone else's two cents.
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Dude... you're 25?!?! I thought you were 10 years older than that all this time. I just turned 31 last week (yes still a baby). If I had the skills, I'd be there yesterday regardless of how badly things COULD get. I'd save up money just to blow it living in NYC, learning from big-time players, and playing until my money ran out, day/night gigs or not (I might actually do that one day still). Not that I have alot of years to look back upon since 25, but IMO, mid-twenties is a persons last time to do anything with complete impunity. Besides, once you come back from there I'm sure it'll improve your resume greatly.
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    There are plenty of "name" bassists that are scuffling, playing clubdates, playing blues gigs, pit gigs whatever. You just have to be willing to say YES every time the phone rings. For whatever kind of music. When I first got here, most of my gigs were as a sub on a jazz gig for somebody who was taking a higher paying club date (usually playing electric bass). There are a million "aural wallpaper" gigs, a million more $50 or less gigs. So making a living really depends on how much you want to scuffle, how willing you are to take any gig to make the bread.

    Personally, I work a day job so I can say no to gigs I won't have any fun doing, no to people I won't have any fun playing with, no to gigs that are playing music I don't want to play. There are things I miss - sessions during the day, rehearsal bands, hanging hard til early hours. But I'm averaging about 80 gigs a year, almost every one a jazz gig, and with people I dig playing with.

    hmmm. Club date, that means GB gig here -parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs etc. WHich falls under the "private event" thing. Most nightclub gigs pay in the range of $50, unless the leader (or singer) is paying the band and in turn getting paid by the club. Most singers end up paying the band more than the club would be paying. Although uptown clubs tend to pay a little better, in the range you're talking about. The only time I've worked at Birdland, Village Gate, Lennox Lounge, second tier clubs, it was for a percentage of the door. Which can be cool, or not depending on who you are playing with/for. I haven't done the brunch gigs at Blue Note or Iridium, I don't know what those pay. Getting into the first tier clubs, well, best of luck. You need to be working with an artist of national or international stature.

    Well, you know me and amps. Buncha folks do the GK in a shoulder bag or speaker on a cart. Get light and get small, most folks don't have anything bigger than a light 1-12 cabinet. So no matter how good that Eden 2 -10 sounds, it's gonna sit at home. I used to have a car, now I don't have a car. Driving in Manhattan is easier (for me) than driving in Boston. Those people are just ****ing nuts. Generally your gigs are after rush hour, so it's easier than driving around in the middle of the day. Parking is easier too. Of course it all depends on what part of town you're going to. Times Square/Theatre district is ALWAYS ****ed up, traffic AND parking wise. But that's probably the area best served by public transportation. Insurance is more expensive, you have to move your car for alternate side parking, you have to get used to seeing dents in something you paid a lot of money for. I wouldn't move here and buy a car, but if you have one already, it is helpful. Mostly to make the lucrative Lawn Guyland and Jersey clubdates.

    The amount of time "great players" can devote to teaching is limited by the amount of time that their careers take up. Buddy of mine at the New School, the students get all excited over being able to study with Kenny Barron or Scott Colley or whoever until they have to make up 6 to 8 weeks worth of credits in a couple of weeks cause So and So was out on tour. There are, of course, no guarantees, but you always see ads everywhere for teaching.

    Man, the best thing I can say is that it's just like playing music. If what you are doing is looking to make money, just be a doctor. If what you NEED to do is play music in the most challenging situations, with musicians who are really playing some ****, come on up. Plenty of room for one more.

    When I moved here, I was in much the same boat that you are. I felt like I wasn't being challenged, that I needed to grow more as a musician, get closer to the "real deal". So I had this idea that I would move to NYC and learn to be a happening player and then, after 5 or so years,move back to Augusta and get all the gigs. Luckily, my perspective shifted. I'm doing what I'm doing to have a good life up here, so that I can continue to gain inspiration, experience and knowledge. So that I can play with the best musicians I have played with in my life, even if we aren't making a lot of money doing so.

    You need to decide if you want to be comfortable if unchallenged or stressed, uncomfortable but pushed musically. If playing is more important than standard of living. If your ego can stand the hit, right now you're one of a few bassists working a pretty large city. There are going to be more bassists in your neighborhood up here than there are in Denver. And the majority of guys are just like you and me, top of the pile in East Bum**** but wanting more, so they come here. As a recent article in the New Yorker started out "You can't toss a penny in a New York crowd without hitting a competent bebop saxophonist..." well change that to "competent, good sounding bassist" and that's what it's like.

    You definitely want to type to Mike McGuirk (McBass here), Ray Parker, Mike Savino, Marc Panascio - they are all making a go of being a professional bassist in NY.
    They don't post here, but if you can track down Paul Beaudry or Nathan Peck, they're doing the same thing.
  8. I've lived here my whole live so coming to NYC was never an issue. Plus I've always known that I'd be one of many musicians running around trying to make things happen muically. Sometimes I actually think it might be better to get out of dodge for a while to a place where the cost of living is less and the competition isn't so fierce and gig for a while. The biggest problem is I can't picture living anywhere else.
    Anyway, I'm not a great player, but trying to get there and if there is a place for me you'll have no problem.

    Robin, didn't you email me once about CCNY? Would you go there? The school is cheap, a good environment, and if you're good you will definately get work with students and teachers. I've seen it happen for quiet a few guys.
  9. Robin Ruscio

    Robin Ruscio Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2003
    Denver, CO, USA
    That sounds more appealing all the time, i have no job skilsl other then playing the bass so i'm not sure what to do, i'd rather have music be a great thing everytime instead of the hit or miss thing that is my life now.

    $50! Incredible. I do a gig on Tuesdays for $50, but it's with my buddies and we only play a few hours, mostly because that used to be our beer night and it's more fun to jam. I usually won't walk out the door for that little otherwise. But if that's what it takes. . .

    I've got good cart, an EA wizzy 1x12 (about 30lbs) and i think i'd get a clarus again. But i do slab gigs too- i think i'd have to keep at least a 2x10 and a bigger head- but maybe that could go in a cab? unless. . .

    I have a great car (Honda Element), but i'm still paying for it and costs me about $600/month to drive here. Should i sell it? I could always buy one again if things are going well. Subway pass is like what, $70 a month?

    Thanks for your input, ed.
  10. Robin Ruscio

    Robin Ruscio Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2003
    Denver, CO, USA
    You're very lucky to come up in such an environment.
    I am still considering that, i think i will audition and see what happens, but i might lean towards getting a day job and trying to get out there every night and hang. Although most of my work here i can tie back to recommendations i got from faculty at my undergrad, so i appreciate what that can do connection wise. I would really love to study with Patitucci more then anyone i can think of, nut there are so many great players i could study with. My mind reels at the possibilities.

    I guess the plan is to stay here until Sept when my lease expires and save some $. I think a little scout mission in Feb is the first step outside of curbing my spending. I want see the Cristo wrap in Central park then anyways.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    If you're playing slab, you can call car service or a cab (but from the boroughs, that's gonna be at least $20 each way). With DB, you can't always rely on the car service company to have a minivan or SUV available, they never have hatchbacks. I did call and reserve an SUV once, they didn't have it when it was time for me to be picked up, so they sent a stretch limo. Cabs and DB, forget about it except AFTER the gig. They won't stop for you if there are a lot of other fares around, at 3am they aren't as choosy. Minivan cabs are few and far between, you can do the head stock out the window trick, but I know someone who's bass got totally ****ed by this recently. I wouldn't do it anymore, myself.

    BG in a gig bag and the rest on a cart is doable on the subway.

    Rent AND a car payment is a pretty good nut, you aren't gonna be able to spend less than $500 -600 a month on rent and that's a roomate situation in the boroughs. You got food, night life, transportation, utilities on top of that.

    I don't know, maybe you'll get lucky and get a gig when you get here. But I don't know anybody that did that, personally. Even Chris Potter was scuffling, doing sessions, low paying jobs etc. when he got here and he came in off a tour with Red Rodney for crying out loud.

    My perspective is only my perspective, like I said you should contact some of the other guys on the board, if they don't chime in.

    But part of the money thing is that there are a LOT of players up here, and a lot of really really good ones. And, if you're a drummer or tenor player let's say, you have a range of gigs: one that is for tips, one that pays $50 and one that pays $350 a man. The guy that will play for tips is either your buddy or a new hungry cat in town, the guy that will play for $50 is a wide range of very good player and for $350 who do you want, Steve LaSpina or Ray Drummond? Or Peter Washington?

    Bring lots of money. If you have ANY way of working connections in Denver, do so. If there's a traveling Bway show that you can audition for, do it. If you can work with any NYC musicians that are coming through and network, do it. School can be OK, but it can also be just one more expense in an expensive city. You can network WITHOUT school, just doing sessions and stuff.

    There's a lot to love about being here, just be forewarned- the city can really **** with you for the first couple of years you're here. If you make it past the fifth year, it seems to be smooth sailing...
  12. Maybe if jazz was the music I was doing from the begining. I spent most of my youth in rock and heavy metal bands. I didn't get into jazz until my 20's. When I got into this music I was shocked to learn of all these great players running around this city, making wonderful music so under the radar.
  13. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    First let me say that I live in NYC, I am not a working DB player in NYC.

    If you bring your car, get ready to pay $150-300 month for car insurance if you are in your mid-twenties. After a few months here I sold my car b/c it was pretty much the same as my rent (including car payment).

    So that would be around $800-$900 for you.

    Like many others here I use the subway, yes can be a pain the Ass at times, but better than paying for car loan, insurance, and gas. Just make sure you wheel has air before you leave the house. Get yourself an amp that you can carry (AI New Yorker, GK MB150, something in that realm).

    Rent-get ready for the SHOCK that is NYC rent. I would be prepared to pay between $500-$700 for a roomate suituation in one of the boroughs. Some parts of Brooklyn are just as Exp. as the city itself.

    Their are tons of excellent DB and slab players in the city that fly under the radar...given that perfect situation they would be nationally recorgnized.

    Having Lived in SF and Chicago, I can say that New York feels like home. It is a great city.

    As Ed said though, you need to give it a few years before you can decide if it is right for you.

    Saves tons of money.

    Good Luck.
  14. Alexi David

    Alexi David

    May 15, 2003
    Lemme say first that I grew up in NYC, but I've been away since March 1999. I begun playing in NYC when I was 18-19, and had to stop soon after due to health problems. I will move back next year and hopefully also attend the New School.

    The magic of NYC to me, is that it offers things that are very unique. What those things are vary from person to person - but that's what I love about it. For me, I love the people (seriously!), the food, the music, the culture, etc. It is also a SERIOUS pain in the ass to live there (Rents, Medical, rent, crime, rent...). I would suggest that you visit the city, accompanied by someone that lives there. See if the positives can balance the negatives. I think most New Yorkers feel that balance.

    It's like no other city in the states - at times it feels like a different country.

    I hope things haven't changed THAT much since I've been there.....
  15. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    Ahhhh New Yawk City,

    This is the place for dreamers. Everything you ever wanted is only a subway ride away, except for peace and quiet. I've lived and worked here for almost 7 years, half of it as a student. The latter half I've lived off of playing, It's hard sometimes man. I have friends that are very big names in the music world, who I wont name, that STILL struggle! This is no money game. But, I love my life. NYC has made me into the person and player that I am and I wouldnt trade it for anything. I dont have a day gig so I do take almost every call I get. I'm amazed now when I look back a bit and realize that I've played with thousands of people in thousands of places. One night you can play in an empty restaurant, the next at SOB's for 400 screaming dancing people. You never know, but I am always faced with new challenges that present an opportunity to grow. The caliber of musicianship here is outstanding. You dont realize it sometimes until you're riding the subway chatting with Ron McClure, Juini Booth, Gerald Cleaver and so on. If you're looking to become a better musician, do it. You wont regret it. Bassists are the best and friendliest type of musicians. There is a certain sense of comraderie here. I've made so many great friends here that play their ass off. But its a labor of love, I sold my car because it's like having a second apartment on the street. In 3 years it went from a nice car to a ghetto sled. Parking is a bitch. At one point I had eleven outstanding parking tickets, That was a lot of bread. Now its me and my bass with my crappy GK slung over my shoulder politely pushing my way through packed subway cars, but, Im still smiling. What have you got to lose. Even if you come for a year, you will leave with ten years of experience ;)
  16. In response to the car insurance thing. Rates vary greatly from brough to brough with Brooklyn being the most exspensive due to the high rate of insurance fruad. I owned a car for a while when I lived in Queens, then moved to Brooklyn and my rate almost doubled. I now live in Queens again without a car, live is better that way. The other problem is parking getting home from a gig at 1:00am, not getting into your place until 3:00am. It happened to me more times than I like to think about.
  17. Alexi David

    Alexi David

    May 15, 2003
    So sad.....I used to run into people like that too, and had one famous friend that was almost homeless...
  18. Robin Ruscio

    Robin Ruscio Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2003
    Denver, CO, USA
    Thanks for the input, guys. I am going to make another scouting trip out in Feb, maybe hit a grad school audition at CCNY, check out some gigs for sure. Everyone i talk to thinks it's worth a go. I think if i'm gonna try it, it will be Sept when my lease is up, that should give me some time to save some more $.

    For me, this really comes back to the issue of what's most important in life: playing great music in a great city with a very difficult lifestyle, or the more common choice for an easier life (perhaps one still founded entirely on music, i won't ever need a day job here) without the environment that creates true greatness. Of course the idealist in all of us thinks that music is enough but i know that have other ideas for my life as well (i.e. having children, eating on a regular basis). a life of poverty is no joke. When people mention something as serious as homelessness in the name of being an artist, i must admit i wonder why they would subject themselves to it. It must be brutal to play every night and still only pull in a few hundred a week when so many NY'ers are the most privelaged class on the planet.

    That being said, i'm going to make an honest attempt to get out there.

    Funny, all my freinds and family here that were so worried about me becoming a musician when i was younger are now practically insistent on me leaving. When you have nothing, they want you to chase $ and when you have it they want you to give it all up for the higher cause.
  19. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    You sound very wise being a young man like myself Robin. Best of luck to you. Look us up when you're here
  20. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    A few years back I got a book entitled 50 Places to Find Peace and Quiet in NYC, my girlfriend and I spent a few years hitting a number of places in there.
    Some highlights -




    TEMPLE OF DENDUR in the Metropolitan Museum
    GEORGE NAKASHIMA ROOM in the Metropolitan Museum
    CHINESE HOUSE AND GARDEN in the Metropolitan Museum

    SNUG HARBOR CULTURAL CENTER - nice grounds, artist studios and a reproduction CHINESE SCHOLAR'S HOUSE

    Outside the city there's a wonderful Japanese Stroll Garden and Teahouse near Oyster Bay on Long Island...