« Hulu's Going on Sale | Main | NYTVF Launches New Pitch Program »

How Back Stage Gives Buskers a Boost

Thief and cobbler 1 As a young, aspiring artist giving it my best shot in New York City, I live in a constant state of preparation. I keep my game face on and my voice warmed up. I work hard at my small "survival" jobs, and keep my eyes peeled for new opportunities. All of this, so that in my daily attempt to scale the great wall that my art school professors call "the door to the industry," I might have a slight advantage over the climber next to me.

Thus a precious and rare moment occurs for the weary climber when something presents itself as a "leg up" on the wall -- a little boost that restores your faith and puts you just ahead of the rest. Finding Back Stage was that leg up for me.

In early April this year, having spent a school year (and a lifetime) dreaming about playing live acoustic shows in venues across the five boroughs of the city, I had just met a busker in the subway named Elijah Bridges, who with his big laugh and his blues harp soon became my close friend and bandmate. We called our duo the Thief and the Cobbler, after an old childhood movie we both knew, and over the course of many afternoons in April we turned the Bedford Avenue "L" subway station into a roaring dance hall. But we had no "ins"—no CD demo, or equipment, no friends who owned bars… and close to no money.

It was also in April that I first discovered Back Stage.  I had just subscribed to BackStage.com when in an online casting search, I discovered a listing for a talent showcase that was to be held at The Duplex NYC, the West Village cabaret venue.

The notice was posted by Philip Carroll of PLP Productions, and at the very bottom, much to my surprise, “Singer-songwriters encouraged” was written in bold.

Eli and I jumped on it. We decided to audition separately, as the notice described the showcase as featuring solo acts -- but we intended to try to band together in the event that we both got in. It was my first audition in New York City, and perhaps the only thing that saved me from a nervous breakdown was the placating balance of my genuine excitement for the opportunity. I had followed the directions listed in the notice on BackStage.com and prepared 16 bars of a song.  It was one of my own original songs, and I brought my guitar to accompany myself.

Thief and cobbler 2 The audition took place in Mr. Carroll’s recording studio on Gay Street in the West Village. I climbed an ancient staircase to the third floor and sat in a hallway as I waited for my audition slot, listening through the door to the intimidating melismatic fireworks of the opera singer before me. 10 minutes passed, the door swung open, she hurried down the stairs with a quick smile my way, and it was my turn.

Inside the little studio, Carroll greeted me warmly from where he was seated at an upright piano, and he appeared pleasantly surprised by the guitar over my shoulder. The audition process was quick and painless. He worked quickly, asking me to state my name, the name of the song I would be singing and who wrote it, and then to sing it out past his left shoulder as if there were an audience behind him. I followed his directions, and ended up singing through my 16 bars and to the end of the song. When I looked back at him, he was smiling. He thanked me for coming and then and there he explained that he thought I would be a great addition to the showcase. I was shocked that I didn’t have to go home and wait for a call.

What followed was a whirlwind of fast paced excitement: Eli called me later that day to explain that he too had made the cut! We were ecstatic. We got together with Carroll for a dress rehearsal one Wednesday night in May, and worked it out so that we could play together on stage. We saw advertisements for the showcase on the Duplex website and on flyers in coffee shops downtown. We invited everyone we knew and made a Facebook group for our band, where the showcase was listed as our first gig. And then on May 11 at 9:30 p.m., we found ourselves playing a six song set at the Duplex NYC in a showcase of seven great performers, where we stood out for being the only songwriters and guitar players in the mix.

Playing the showcase in itself was one of the greatest leaps forward I have made as a young artist so far in NYC, but it was the opportunity that next arose from having played that show that prompted me to share this story. After the show, we discovered that a producer named Luanne Surace had been in the audience and that she wanted us to play in a songwriting competition hosted by RAD (Recording Artist’s Development), her not-for-profit record company that she founded with Carroll, to compete for a first prize package of two fully produced, mixed, and mastered singles, as well as an on-air interview with Evan Ginzberg on Legends Radio.

She was hosting the contest at Gizzi’s Café  for two Wednesdays in a row (May 18 and 25), and Eli and I were eager to partake. We were prepared for the competition, bringing in our best originals and getting to know other great musicians. There were keyboardists and a capella singers, guitar players and power belters with their own back up tracks. As The Thief and the Cobbler, we made friends, developed the beginnings of a real fan base, discovered new music, and really improved our own set along the way. But most importantly, we started to realize that we had something, that our music was something people really wanted to listen to. And then to top off an incredible learning experience, we won the grand prize.

Now we each get a free recording in RAD’s summer session, which includes a meeting every week from June until August with producer Phillip Carroll to work on an original track of our choice for free (a production value of around $675) and airtime on Legends Radio sometime in July to promote our upcoming singles.

Noni culotta So this is where we are now. And it’s somewhere that I’ve never believed to be so achievable until now. I’m climbing still, with a great distance in front of me, but it feels like gravity has loosened its grip a little -- like I’ve gotten a leg up.

-- Noni Culotta

Dig This


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How Back Stage Gives Buskers a Boost:


The comments to this entry are closed.