Daily Slice - Thursday, March 19th
Sometimes people ask me what a typical day is like, being a freelance musician/artist in New York City. The short answer is, there's no such thing as a typical day. I'm sure my freelancer readers can agree, the same parts of this lifestyle that give you freedom, variety, and excitement can also be stressful and nerve-wracking. How do you know how much money you'll make if your job flow fluctuates? How do you plan events, vacations, or just life?
Well... I'm still figuring all that out. There are plenty of people way smarter than me who have advice on budgeting for freelancers, but that's not what this post is about. I'm going to share with you a cross-section of my life, one little slice at a time.
Since Dance Theater of Harlem is gearing up for their New York season, I have started playing morning classes again. Class starts at 9:30am, so that means I should leave the house a little after 8:00 so I can get a cup of coffee. The morning commute goes a little smoother for the caffeinated. Also, it never fails that the day you're running late, the trains are delayed. Damn Murphy and his stupid Law.
At 8:15am I'm dashing out the door with my coat, scarf, and gloves. It's still pretty cold out, and a ten minute walk to the subway won't be fun if I'm not dressed properly. I've got a small carry-all bag that I got from the military surplus store. It contains: a handful of protein bars and other snacks (you're not you when you're hungry), one of my portable knitting projects (cabled socks that will probably never be finished, they just like to ride around the city with me), headphones (essential), Tums/Advil (you never know), and my phone charger. If your phone dies, you're toast -- beyond checking Facebook endlessly, it's vital to be able to answer emails, calls, and texts on the go. The world is your office! Well, except for the subway (no reception). I may not be coming back home until nighttime, so I need to make sure I have everything with me I might need.
At 9:05am I get off the train at 145th street. No cash. I'll have to pass up my usual 75¢ bodega coffee. ("What's a bodega," you ask? See the brilliant illustration below!) Fortunately, there's a new Ethiopian cafe that has incredible coffee... and I can use my card. I get the big one.
9:30am. I'm settled into class in the upstairs studio at DTH. The ceiling is tall and has skylights, and the sun is streaming in on the warm brick walls. The teacher is a guest artist who danced with the Royal New Zealand Ballet; he is quick and efficient, yet relaxed and disarming. There is a film crew.
By 11:05am I am walking out of the studio toward the subway. My next engagement is at 1:00pm, so I have plenty of time for lunch and a spare errand, but not much else. I take the 1 train to 72nd street and find an Indian restaurant with a lunch special. Bingo. Sunny spot, vegetarian platter, life is good.
Halfway through lunch I get a text from a young lady who needs to submit a filmed audition for a theatrical project, and needs an accompanist. After much discussion we decide on a time and place. My original plan was to head home in the afternoon and teach a piano lesson at 4:00pm, but now all of that is rearranged so that we can use a rental studio space in town. I head toward my next class and leave her to set up the details.
1:00pm. I am warming up on the grand piano in the corner of the studio on the third floor of Steps. My window overlooks Broadway and is right above a hectic grocery store. It seems an ambulance or fire truck always goes by during this time; the morning coffee helps me stay focused, but it's tempting to gaze out the windows at the tall buildings and the bustling traffic. I play through waltzes and mazurkas, polonaises and adagios. The time flies by.
My original plan was to head home, but at 2:30pm I'm faced with a decision: go home to Brooklyn and come back to Manhattan later, or just hang out somewhere for four hours. It's a nice day out, so I choose the latter. I decide to stay on the west side of town and take the 3 train to 14th street. I meander down through the west village, peeking into hidden gardens and terraces as I wind through the convoluted jumble of streets. I pass by designer boutiques, an old-fashioned soda shop, an episcopal church, a candy store, another episcopal church. I shudder to think what these quaint, almost provincial-style homes cost in this neighborhood. A mainstay for this neighborhood, McNulty's Tea and Coffee, lures me in. The robust aroma of freshly roasted coffee compels me to leave with a half pound of the custom blended Vienna Blend. A few blocks away I spot a cafe that features live music; I go in and get the contact info for booking. There is a small stage in the back with an upright piano.
3:35pm. I make my way west until I get to the waterfront. It's still quite cool in the shade, but nice in the sunshine. I walk along the riverfront park for several streets, gazing at the bright reflective water between piers. I sit down and do a bit of writing, more coordinating for the lessons this evening. What a beautiful office.
At 4:00pm I head back toward NYU and arrive at 100 Montaditos, a Spanish restaurant that features several small sandwiches (100 of them, to be exact). After a few mini sandwiches, I'm dreaming of warm weather and trying to ignore thoughts of the impending snow tomorrow.
5:00pm and my phone battery is perilously low. I duck into a Starbucks, which are ubiquitous in NYC, and find a corner spot near an outlet. The outlet doesn't work. I abandon the plan and head toward the studio.
I get to Pearl Studios around 5:30pm, an hour before my scheduled appointment. The rehearsal room is on the 12th floor in studio J. The room is much bigger than I thought it would be, with folding tables and a mirrored wall. An upright piano is in the corner of the room; it is in relatively good shape, but could desperately use a tuning. I whip out my charger and plug in my phone, without a moment to spare. Crisis averted. With an hour to kill, I pull out my sock project and make considerable progress.
My piano student arrives at 6:30pm for her first lesson. Aside from the dismal state of the piano's upper register, the lesson goes swimmingly. The coaching/recording session scheduled immediately after goes off largely without a hitch, save for running out of time. Promptly at 8:00pm, the next clients walk into the rehearsal room, which is our clue to leave. At 8:05pm I head to Penn Station to catch a Queens-bound E train, and finally head home.
I walk in the door at 8:45pm, throw my things on the table in the corner and start a lot for tea. There are still a few emails to respond to, and a few lyrics I've been wanting to try at the piano. The next day will be very different from this one, with a morning class at the beautiful New York City Center and a huge break before evening classes on the upper east side. If I can fit in time to check out the Björk exhibit at MoMA and do laundry, it will be a productive end of a "work week" (I have more work on Saturday).
Freelancing can be panic-inducing, but when work is steady it can be remarkably freeing if you frame the work in the right mindset. Appointments and obligations are the anchor of my daily schedule, and I fill in the cracks depending on where I am in the City. With NYC being such a dense and diverse metropolitan area, it's easy to find something to explore or some cozy spot to hang out no matter where you are... as long as you're prepared for adventure.
Coty Cockrell is a freelance musician and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. He is actively involved in the dance world as a professional ballet accompanist, and also works as a theatrical music director and vocal coach. When not teaching private lessons, he gigs with his jazz trio throughout the NYC area.
To inquire about booking or to schedule a trial lesson, please visit the Contact page: