Live Musicians In New York City

There are some great places to play and make a living as a musician in New York City.

The Ebony Hillbillies at NYC Subway
The Ebony Hillbillies at NYC Subway

  I took a 3-day trip to New York City last week just to hang out, take in the sights and get a feel for how live musicians worked in the Big Apple. It was a great trip and I had a lot of fun seeing the usual tourist attractions like the Statue Of Liberty, Empire State Building and, of course, the Hard Rock Cafe. I also took in a couple of Broadway shows seeing “Wicked” as well as “Phantom Of The Opera”, both were truly excellent. As I made my way around the city I took particular notice of all the live musicians everywhere I went. There really seem to be a lot of places to play music in New York City so today I’m going to talk about a couple.

   It seems like everywhere I went there was a musician nearby playing music. On street corners, in lobby’s, restaurants and clubs. It was honestly great for me as I’m obviously a huge fan of music and musicians in general and I made sure and took at least a few minutes to listen to the local musicians every chance I had. One of the most interesting places that I took in some live music was the Subway. There are some truly great musicians playing in the Subways of New York City. I got to hear some electric guitar blues, bluegrass, jazz, acapella and a variety of ethnic instruments. It was a great coming together of musical styles.

   As I understand it you have to call the  main “Music Under New York” office, which is sponsored by the MTA, and they schedule the musicians to play in certain locations in the Subway. There are a lot of musicians that want to play down there and you have to go through the process to be able to play legally in the Subway. Although it seems odd to me, being a club musician, to set up and play in the Subway I can see the attraction and the benefits of playing in the Subway. For one thing there’s always a crowd which means you don’t have to do a lot of advertising to get people to see you play. All the musicians I saw playing had minimal setups in terms of equipment so set-up time must have been very short. Playing the Subway seems like a great way to get some blanket exposure to a new audience too so I can see how it would present some excellent marketing opportunities. I’m sure there are downsides as well. I’m sure the noise would be a distraction. I bet you could get some pretty good heckling although there does seem to be a solid police presence in the Subway. The income would seem to be fairly unreliable as well but it does look like you could take in quite a bit of cash if you were entertaining enough. The Subway seems like it would be a pretty interesting place to play and if you are looking for some very affordable entertainment it’s a great place to hang out and listen to some live music.

   I also thoroughly enjoyed listening to the live music performed by the pit orchestras in the productions of Wicked and Phantom Of The Opera. The musicians that play in these pit orchestras are extremely talented and very good at what they do. Playing in a pit orchestra seems like it would be a great way to make a living as a professional musician. It would definitely be a steady gig and I would imagine that once you’re in, you’re in for as long as the show runs. I have to say that having the music in the Broadway shows performed live is so much better than hearing pre-recorded music or virtual orchestras for the actors to sing along with. For Phantom Of The Opera I was able to get two tickets in the very center of the front row so I was able to watch what the pit orchestra was doing along with watching the show. The orchestra played with a lot of heart and the music was extremely rich and full sitting that close to the orchestra. I’ve said before that I feel like recording technology is still unable to reproduce the sound of acoustic orchestra instruments playing together as a group. There is simply nothing like a live orchestra and having one during a Broadway production is a huge part of why these productions are the best in the world. Being able to envelop myself in the music sitting 5 feet away from the orchestra was a real treat. I would love to be able to play in a pit orchestra for a living.

   There are a ton of clubs and other places to play in New York City and I hope that the next time I’m there that I’ll get to spend some more time going out and hearing live music. I had a great trip and I have to say “I Love New York!” -Matt-

Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

2 thoughts on “Live Musicians In New York City”

  1. Tp play legally in the subway one has to pass an audition, which takes place once a year. Don’t think just because it is an audition for playing in the subway that it will be easy – this audition is as difficult and competative as any audition for an orchestra or whatever gig. You can find a lot of information about what it’s like playing in the subway at – the ‘Saw Lady’ has been playing in the subway for more than a decade and she informs about many of the other musicians in the subway.

  2. Yes the musicianship level seemed really high so I can imagine the audtion process would be a great challenge. The ‘Saw Lady’ blog is a fascinating read. Thanks for pointing it out.


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