August 25, 2011

Reflections on the Brooklyn Music World

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Walking down a deserted street from my apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I fearfully glanced around at the unfamiliar territory on the trek to my first Brooklyn D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) show. Eventually, I found myself in the midst of deteriorated, uninhabited warehouses and followed the music pouring down the street until I came across an unmarked building, with a critical mass of people outside on the second floor landing.

Expecting a makeshift, downtrodden room in a warehouse as I climbed up the stairs, my first clue that I was wrong arrived when I was ID’d at the door. I then walked into this “makeshift” space and came to face a well-furnished venue complete with a bar, stage and the venue name, Shea Stadium, painted glamorously on the wall. As I quickly learned, Brooklyn doesn’t compromise when it comes to music.

‘Brooklyn’ has quickly become a buzzword in the music industry. Just attach the word Brooklyn to it, and some tiny band can be compared to indie giants T.V. on the Radio, Yeasayer or any number of acts based in the most popular borough of the 21st century — even if they sound nothing like them.

Nonetheless, Brooklyn is a music lover’s mecca. It plays host to an innumerable amount of record labels, record stores and venues — both warehouse or basement D.I.Y. spaces and legitimate commercial venues. Everybody has a friend who plays in a band or runs a record label. And nearly everyone has a common goal: to create or help create organic, pleasurable music.

I stumbled upon one small, friendly label called Paper Garden Records, based out of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn during my stint there this summer. Run out of their apartment, Paper Garden is a Brooklyn quintessential label run by two music lovers, who believe in the music rather than the money. Founded by Bryan Vaughan, who has background working at Interscope Records and Sub Pop Records, the label has a diverse roster of national indie pop and rock acts.

The work at a small Brooklyn label quickly immersed me in the elaborate, yet surprisingly tight-knit, local scene of music industry figures and musicians alike. Figures from other labels, music-related firms and musician friends wandered in and out of the Paper Garden headquarters to talk business and chat. Rather than implementing from the top down, a strategy used at larger, major corporate labels, I took part in a collaborative bottom-up business strategy at the label.

Creativity is allowed to thrive at smaller labels such as Paper Garden because of this cooperative spirit. In particular, Paper Garden and other small labels extensively use technological tools to separate them from other similar firms. It brought the small independent label to the top this summer, as they were featured in The New York Times in a piece about a new music discovery tool called Paper Garden used extensively to bring unsigned talent into their DJ room, so that they could play their songs and solicit comments from other listeners in the room.

Interning at Paper Garden Records and the editorial department at SPIN Magazine taught me that work in the music industry is a function of the type of organization you’re working for. Similar to almost any other industry, labor is split up more and more as a firm becomes larger, and at the bottom of the totem poll, this became quite apparent. Yet SPIN offered its own experience and perks, not the least of which were attending and bartending private performances with Cults and Anna Calvi.

Beyond the internships, the most meaningful experience was navigating the vast expanses of Brooklyn and Manhattan and their associated music scenes. While Manhattan offers a concrete jungle full of venues — most notably the haute — but often-contrived spaces in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn is often frequently the opposite.

Finding good music in Brooklyn is a function of knowing the right DIY basement and warehouse venues and doing your research — some of the best shows that I saw this summer were a result of spending far too much time reading blogs, Twitter feeds and having well-connected friends. I definitely never would have seen Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in an intimate 250 capacity venue otherwise.

The music industry in Brooklyn, and the scene it corresponds to, is an intensification of that alternative, underground music scene in your hometown. Yet, it became the norm in Brooklyn as a result of an influx of, well, probably those same people from your hometown. The migration turned the once uncool brother to big, flashy Manhattan into the new hot post-grad living destination. Regardless of how it happens, I’ll be back soon, Brooklyn.

Original Author: Chris Leo Palermino