Interview with NYC Musicians Meetup Organizer, Part II

Yesterday we began running our interview with Phil Robinson, organizer of the NY Musicians Group meetup.

Here are more of Phil’s insightful comments on marketing music and participating in the NYC music scene…

How long have you been a musician in NYC?

I’ve been a musician in NYC since I moved here five years ago.  However, I spent the first year and a half practicing and writing, so I’ve only really been publicly active for the past 3.5 years.

What music projects are you personally involved in?

I write and perform my own music, both solo and with my rock band, The Bliss Jockeys.  In addition, I’m also an ongoing guitarist for the Jessica Lee Band.  All of these activities are well-represented on my web-site.

Apart from my own direct projects, I run the indie record label, Roomful of Sky Records, and in that capacity, I produce and/or help promote the recordings and shows of our ten artists.

Has the Meetup had a significant impact, professionally and/or personally, on your singer/songwriter career?

Yes.  The Meetup group has enabled a great and supportive community of musicians to come together and stay strong for the past couple of years.  Personally, I’ve formed many mutually beneficial relationships with other musicians which have given me the opportunity to ‘grow by doing’—eg. when you feel safe enough to try things out in front of other people, so that even if you fail miserably, it’s understood as the kind of healthy experimentation that’s part of progress—by having an environment like that, I’ve been able to both expand my skills as well as increase my confidence, all the while very much enjoying the process and forming quality friendships.

The networking aspect of the group has been tremendously beneficial as well—I’ve found all sorts of collaborators, as well as built relationships with venues, rehearsal spaces and studios which have resulted in me having more power to call my own shots as places are more willing to work with you when you have the strength of numbers behind you.

To what extent has the Meetup improved your skills as a musician and songwriter?

First and foremost, I feel that playing regularly with (and for) others has really desensitized me to most of the nervousness that can often be associated with performing or with presenting my ideas to others.  That in itself has enabled me to feel more comfortable to just GO FOR IT whenever I play/sing/write.

It’s like anything else, you take baby steps and take a little risk and it turns out to be OK, and so next time you take a little bit bigger of a risk and, again, it turns out to be OK, so just by participating in an ongoing process of playing over time, you wind up having the opportunity to keep pushing your own envelope.

Playing regularly with others has also helped me to get my mindset ‘off the page’ or ‘out of the head’ and or whatever you want to call it.  What I mean is, when you sit in your room by yourself, you are playing music and it’s a one-way communication.  When you play with other musicians, however, they are creating music simultaneously so it becomes a two-way street; while playing you are also LISTENING– there’s something going on larger than just you, which is the collective creation of everyone in the room.  So, becoming more sensitive to that and becoming more able to allow the simultaneous listening inform what I myself am playing.  That’s the very essence of musicianship, and you only develop that ability by participating in music making with others, and the Meetup has given me a tremendous opportunity to create and participate in many of those kinds of situations on an ongoing basis.
Continue reading “Interview with NYC Musicians Meetup Organizer, Part II”

Interview with NYC Musicians Meetup Organizer, Part I

One modern benefit of technology has been the formation of local musician communities that meet online and in person to engage and create music. Meetup is home to the The NY Musicians Group, which claims some 600+ members. Joining the meetup is as simple as filling out an online form, and will bring you in contact with a diverse and energized group of people all exploring music in different ways.

We recently interviewed Phil Robinson, the organizer of the NY Musicians Group, to find out more. Because his responses were so insightful, we will publish them over a few days to let you digest them…

How long have you been organizing the NYC Musicians Meetup?

Two and a half years.

What size is the membership, and how many people go to the Meetup events on average?

Well, our page on the Meetup site indicates that 676 people have ‘joined’ our group.  That means that that’s the pool of people who’ve registered to receive our event announcements and who can RSVP for events.

However, the number of active members who we see in person is much lower; and is probably closer to 30 very active regulars, another 30 once-in-a-while members, and then a large pool, close to 100 who float around and come to our larger events or pop in every once in a while.  Others participate only online for the most part (eg. discussion forums, or respond to group announcements, etc.).

We hold anywhere from 2 to 6 events each month, of all sorts (open mics, workshops, open jams, networking nights, member showcases, etc.) and some are designed to be large events and some are designed to be small.  Our smaller workshops work well with 7 or 8 people present; our larger events, like the Central Park Jam, gets cooking with 40 to 50 people.

In practice, it’s a fairly fluid community.

Are the majority of Meetup members professional musicians or hobbyists?

(To answer your question, I have to introduce a third category.)

If ‘professional’ is defined as ‘primarily supporting oneself financially by playing music’, I don’t think we have too many of those, although there are a few.

Most members of the group have the goal of supporting themselves from their music, and take it that seriously, but are not at the point of being able to completely quit their day job… yet.  However, I’d hesitate to use the word ‘hobbyist’ to describe them, as it implies a casualness or a lack of seriousness or a lack of ambition.

Many of the members of the group (myself included) do understand themselves as engaging in an active career as an independent musician, but also still earn at least a portion of their income through other non-musical means as well.

And then, there are of course, the people who do view it as a hobby.

So, to break it down, I’d say it’s roughly:

2% professional musicians (supporting themselves through music)
48% independent musicians (still doing some non-musical work as well)
40% hobbyists (do it for fun and have no intention of earning a living from it)

What musical styles are well-represented in the Meetup?

You name it, we got it. Popular styles (rock, pop, hip-hop, r+b, punk, singer/songwriter, dance, etc.), more traditional styles (bluegrass, acoustic, folk, blues, jazz), academic styles (classical, opera), electronic, film composers, etc…

Hmmm, now that I think of it, I don’t think we have any country musicians.  Not sure why!

Continue reading “Interview with NYC Musicians Meetup Organizer, Part I”