Breaking In To a New Scene

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a new series by Dave Jolley, an accomplished drummer who recently moved to New York City and is settling into a new life and a new scene.

Leave a comment below to connect, say hi and ask Dave any questions you have about breaking in to a new scene.

We’ve all had to do it.

Never because it’s easy, not because it’s fun. We’ve packed it all up and moved to the big bad city. In my case, the big bad Apple.

This is part one of a series about the ups, downs, trials, and tears of breaking into a brand new scene as a gigging musician. I will share what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Everyone has a different recipe for the mechanics of such an adventure and I hope to start a discussion about good strategies to that end.

Much of what I want to discuss will be based upon my experiences here in New York, but I think many of the ideas will hold in any market, large or small.


My wife and I moved to New York last summer. Prior to that, I was the drummer/percussionist on an international tour of a show with some very naughty puppets. Even prior-er to that I was the resident drummer for a regional theater in Phoenix for 9 years with bouts of touring peppered in there.

It has been a long time goal of mine to play on Broadway so a move to New York was required from a purely spatial standpoint. My wife is a wonderful and talented actress and rumor had it there was a bit of decent theater going on in NYC.

In March of 2011, we had two months left on the road and started to discuss our options. We were free agents for the first time in our ten years together. Extraordinarily freeing and not just a little bit scary.

After much prodding from our many friends in the city including Dave Hahn (cofounder of this site and champion of itinerant drummers), we found ourselves drawn to the idea of New York City. When you’re unemployed and the country is in the middle of a recession, what better idea could there be than moving to the most expensive city in that country?

Nothing ventured nothing gained. Greater risk greater reward. Cue ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Getting There

In part one, I’m going to discuss the basic practicalities of our move to New York, the myriad of things that we had to think about. We all know what joy a move across town or across the country brings to us. It’s a fun filled stress free time in life.

First we had to figure out how to get ourselves, our stuff, and my drums from Phoenix to New York. We have a fly 2006 Toyota Yaris named Atticus and generous family and friends who allowed us to couch surf across the continent.

We decided that we were going to only bring what would fit in the car. No small task as drums tend to take up space. We shipped the rest of our belongings to my dad’s house via cube freight technology and went about dismantling and remantling my childhood room to accommodate our parred down collection of life’s important detritus. And drums. Mountains and mountains of drums.

Automobile Blues

The last day of August we drove into ‘the city’ for the first time. I would be remiss were I to say that driving here the first time wasn’t just a little crazy. Canine v Canine.

There was much discussion amongst our New York friends as to whether or not having a car here was a good idea. It’s not necessarily necessary but has come in very handy in transporting drums and being able to buy paper towel in bulk at the Queens Costco.

That said, I don’t drive anymore than I absolutely have to as New York has great public transit options. It was an added cost, however, to get the car registered and licensed in the great state of New York. And what they say about the DMV here isn’t true. A solid 25% of the people I encountered working there didn’t yell at or belittle me. Pretty good.

In an ironic little twist, a man was rapidly backing down a one way street as we were pulling out of the DMV parking lot. I honked for the 5 or so seconds before he plowed right into the front of us. The relief of having jumped every bureaucratic hoop to legally drive in the state quickly dissipated. His question to me was, “Why didn’t you get out of the way?” Translation: “Welcome to New York.”

Speaking of car insurance, Flo gave me quite a shock when I switched states. Luckily she said I could sign up for a program that tracks your driving habits for a specified length of time. Assuming you’re not a Nascar driver impersonator, this can lead to a pretty significant discount. I still have both kidneys, thank you very much.

A Place For Hat Hanging

Finding a place to live can be a daunting task anywhere that you move. New York finds particularly sadistic pleasure in this venture. Since we decided to bring just the basics, we settled upon that wonderfully common idea of the sublet. As luck would have it, we had friends who were going on the road for 8 months and for reasons that remain unclear, trusted us to live there. Great place and affordable (for New York).

Had this not been the case, a large chunk of capital is required just to get into a place. And references. And good credit.

First, last, deposit, brokers fee. Sometimes one of these can be dropped if you’re lucky but that is hard to come by. Let’s say you found the perfect place for $1000 per month. We’re talking 3 to 4 grand just to get in the door. Granted that you get some of that back in prepaid rent and deposit if you’re not channelling the behaviors of a mid-80’s hair metal band.

Craigslist is an excellent resource in most major markets for housing. There is everything from nightly, weekly, and monthly rentals to long term sublets and multimillion dollar mansions in the sky. One just has to be cautious as there is not a lot of recourse if you get scammed. However, some of the best and lowest fee deals are under the heading ‘by owner’.

The Devilish Details

Above are the bigger ideas involved in moving but what about all of those little things that keep that tend to get neglected?

  • Change of address
    • Do this through the post office,, and any online accounts
  • Find a ‘local’ or nationwide bank
    • Look for that ever elusive ‘free checking’ account
    • Look at credit unions and online banks for the best deals
    • Check to see if your union has a bank affiliation
  • Find a place to practice
    • It is rare that your neighbors appreciate your ‘art’ as much as you do
    • Private lock out studios, shared spaces, and hourly studios are available
      depending on you budget

I’m sure I have missed some things. I’d love to hear any of your stories or suggestions about making this inevitable happenstance in life go smoothly.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll wax philosophical about setting up shop in a new market.

Published by

David Jolley

David Jolley

David Jolley is a freelance drummer/percussionist in New York City. He has performed throughout the world, most recently on the international tour of Avenue Q. He is also an educator, sophomoric writer, and unaccredited vegetarian chef.

5 thoughts on “Breaking In To a New Scene”

  1. You write: “Look at credit unions and online banks for the best deals.”
    I’m guessing that most musicians who read this for advice would join AFM Local 802 upon arriving in NYC. And any musician in Local 802 is eligible to join the Actors Federal Credit Union. I can’t imagine why a newcomer wouldn’t immediately sign up there – I don’t think there’s a better banking solution anywhere. Check it out!

  2. Great article, David.
    Now that it’s been a couple years how’s New York treating you?
    I read this article about a year ago when I first moved to London, and found myself going “Yep….yep….yep….yep.”
    Hope the big city is treating you well.

    Adam Osmianski

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