After about 3 months of absence from what used to be my favorite spot to play in the NYC subway, I decided to give the Times Square subway station another try. I didn’t have my hopes high as I expected the new music store that opened right next to the Music Under New York spot to be blasting their music so loud that I won’t be able to hear myself play. That is the way it was the last few times I played at this station.
When I arrived at the Music Under New York spot at 11:40am I was very surprised to hear…nothing! There was nobody at the spot and it was quiet. I couldn’t believe my ears.
At 11:45 a little bit of music drifted out of the store, but it wasn’t bad.
Arnold, the messenger, spotted me as I was setting up. He returned from his trip home to South Carolina. He said it was 80 degrees there. As he shook my hand he noticed my hands were called. While people are already wearing t-shirts in South Carolina, it is still winter in NYC
Arnold was in a rush to do a pickup for his next delivery.
The tall sanitation guy wearing his Times Square red coat came to say ‘hi’. I was glad he remembered me and I was happy to see he was still working there.
At 12:10 the bubble burst… loud music with booming drums started to pour out of the store next to me
At 12:20 the owner of the store walked by me. I stopped him and asked him if he might agree to lower the volume of the music being played in his store because it is very difficult for me to be heard, as I’m playing a non-amplified instrument. I tried to explain to him that all the acoustic (and therefore quiet) musicians don’t come to this spot anymore because we can’t compete with the store’s blasting sound, thus very loud musicians (who use huge amplifiers or two amps per instrument) are now dominating the spot, because they are the only ones who can deal with the store’s music. I explained that if the store lowered their volume, there will be less loud musicians annoying him. A quiet musician can take up the time used by loud musicians, thus giving the store a less aggressive environment. The store owner said he doesn’t want any musicians next to his store. He didn’t understand my point. He said that his store was in the station first (though not at this location but downstairs) and that musicians were not allowed next to the store when it was downstairs. So now that his store moved, he expects there to be no musicians next to the new location. I explained that this has been a MUNY spot for about 20 years now, and the MTA is not thinking of moving it, so we need to learn to co-exist. He told me the floor I was sitting on doesn’t belong to the MTA but to the building upstairs, and that the MUNY spot should be beyond his store’s line, where the MTA ownership starts. (When I reported this conversation to the MUNY office they said this is a false statement – the MTA owns the entire floor of the station).
He said ‘I can’t move, but you can. Why don’t you go play over there’ pointing to the upper-upper mezzanine. I explained that I actually did try to play there and I could still hear the sound from the store loud and clear. He was surprised to hear that.
A guy told me that he recorded my conversation with the store owner on his cell phone. Apparently he doesn’t like the presence of the store there either. He said “NYC is supposed to be about artists”. He told me that if I get into trouble from the store that I should let him know because he has the whole conversation recorded as evidence…
The guy, who spoke with a heavy Spanish accent, advised me to ignore the sound of the store. It took me a little while to fully appreciate what he meant.
Romero, Bo and Chill, the three acapella singers who sing on the trains, walked by. They told me they have tried to talk with the store owner, too, with similar results. Romero advised me to block out of my consciousness the sound coming from the store. This is the same thing as what the Spanish guy who recorded my conversation was telling me, too.
Romero told me not to give up on this spot, because people are happy to have me back there. I explained, and Chill agreed with me, that even if I succeeded in ignoring the sound coming from the store, the audience will still hear a cacophony of both my sound and the store’s.
Nonetheless, I tried to follow the advice and block the store’s sound out of my awareness. It wasn’t easy. I imagined that there is a mountain of sand between me and the store, blocking their sound from reaching me. I concentrated on my sound, tuning out theirs. The process turned out to be kind of Zen-like. I felt the same concentration as of a person in prayer, tuning out thoughts that interfere with the direct communication one is aiming at. Surprisingly, it actually worked! I ended up having a good time at Times Square and I intend to be back.
The store’s owner returned and said to me “how come you are playing louder now?” I explained that the store upped their volume, causing me to have to up mine. “It’s like a war” I told him, “and wars are not good. We need to coexist”. The store owner asked me “you can hear the sound from the store now?” The sound was very loud at that point… I said “of course – the sound of drums, trumpets, etc”.
Maybe years of working in a music store turned him deaf and he actually doesn’t realize how loud the music in his store is?
Delta Dave, the guitar & harmonica player/singer who sits in a wheel chair, was looking for a spot to freelance. I asked him how he deals with the sound from the store when he plays this spot. He said he just cranks his amplifier all the way up.
Jeremiah Lockwood, who plays blues on guitar and sings while playing a drum with his foot, had the permit to the spot after me. He told me that there are three people who work at the store – there is a nice store owner, another store owner who is a “Bulldog” and a lady. He said he sometimes goes into the store to ask them if they would turn their volume down. He said there is a two out of three chance that they would – the nice owner and the lady usually agree to turn the sound a little bit down. If the “Bulldog” is in the store – forget it. I described the store owner I talked with today to Jeremiah. It was the “Bulldog”…