Developing A Platform For Independent Musicians

By Nikhil P. Yerawadekar

Over the years I have found that no matter the genre, style or scene, working musicians in NYC from all backgrounds are able to bond over our shared experience getting a “raw deal.” From venues with amateur sound systems and engineers, to inaccurate door counts, to obnoxious audiences, to a lack of correlation between the hard work we do and the money we receive for it-- we all have a list of legitimate complaints related to how we make a living. Sometimes these complaints are unavoidable (like, for instance, not getting enough sleep on tour), and sometimes they are the result of exploitative practices that are so common, it can be difficult to imagine the music profession without them.

In the last several months Sound Mind Collective members have been keeping a close eye on the newly created Office Of Nightlife (you can read the press release about this department here). This office aims to “serve as a central point of contact between City agencies, the nightlife industry, and city residents, promoting a safe and vibrant nightlife scene beneficial to businesses and residents across the five boroughs.” We noticed early on that conversations that the Office Of Nightlife aimed to handle did not include representation of musicians’ interests-- even though decisions would certainly affect how musicians make a living. Venue owners, neighboring business and real estate owners, and residents are brought to the table in peacekeeping efforts, but no outreach was made to the performers who ostensibly make NYC nightlife “vibrant.”

This seems fairly typical, as one of the central problems we face in the music profession is the tacit belief that there will always be a steady stream of performers coming into the city, willing to get on stage for little to no money. In an age of increasing income inequality, this feels like an unsustainable premise upon which to maintain a strong music culture, yet we notice that in many cases the folks shaping how things will go in the future aren’t taking this important point into consideration.

So we in the Sound Mind Collective have determined that for now, the Office Of Nightlife does not seem to be the best tree to bark up to promote musicians’ interests-- their conversations thus far appear to be structured in such a way that those who work as performers in NYC’s nightlife are simply along for the ride. Though we will certainly keep watching as new developments take place! Looking at this new office has also served as a great entry point for the SMC to learn more about how NYC government impacts our music professions. As 2018 moves on, we hope to collectively gain a better understanding of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, as well as the Department of Cultural Affairs, to see how our needs and demands can be addressed.

Since the appointment of Ariel Palitz to the position of “Nightlife Mayor,” discussion of the newly created Office has led SMCers to reflect on what changes we as music professionals want to see in NYC music culture, and we are now working together towards ironing out a political platform for our collective to represent and promote.

We have begun the process by gathering a series of rights, demands, ideas, etc. suggested by Collective members. Some of the suggestions are very specific to music-- such as city government promoting and incentivizing artist residencies at local venues “without necessity of profit motive, liquor sales etc. to encourage artist development and strengthen local musician solidarity and the music scene as a whole” (Chris St. Hilaire), public funding to democratically determined “elder statespeople” in music to promote preservation of musical and cultural styles and an accumulation of wisdom among the NYC music landscape, as well as an easily navigable “database of grants and public monies specifically through the Night Mayor's Office” (Mr. Reed). Some of the other ideas brought to the table could apply to society on the whole, such as fair wages in line with minimum wage laws and universal health care.

As we are beginning to compile our members’ ideas, we are noticing that some of the changes we wish to see are pretty radical-- which seems right at this point in history. It’s clear that it’s pretty easy for musicians to be iced out of important public dialogue involving music-- perhaps musicians working together towards better self advocacy is a little radical in itself.

What are the changes you would like to see implemented in our NYC music culture in the coming years? This project, like much of the work of our Collective is dependent on the gathering of a large diversity of voices. We want to hear from you!