New York Nightlife: Where to Go, Where to Avoid and How to Choose

A lot of nightlife writing is a not so subtle attempt to tell you where to go with advertorial features, top 10 lists and the inside scoop on the club no one knows about yet. Some authors put a twist on this formula by trying to tell you where not to go in an apparent disdain for the status quo. Both these approaches can be useful, but I’d rather give you some advice on how to decide for yourself where to go to enjoy New York nightlife.

Because of the writing that I do for nightlife culture and Yelp, people often ask me what club they should go to. I was taught to never answer a question with a question but that’s what I always do. I’m not trying to be annoying (most of the time). I ask questions because the only real way to answer that question is to find out more about the person who is asking. Every venue can’t be everything to everyone every night. Modern New York nightlife has too many niche markets, too much segregation and too much specialization to offer up a stock answer. One size does not fit all.

The questions that I ask fall into 6 general categories.

  1. What kind of music do you want to hear? Because sending the house head to the jazz club probably won’t go over well.
  2. What do you want to do when you are there? People have different reasons for going out and the best place for dancing probably isn’t the best place for craft cocktails or comedy…
  3. Who do you want to meet or spend time with? Where you take your first date is different than where you go out with your boys, or your client, or your female cousin from North Dakota.
  4. What part of town do you want to be in? Different areas attract different types of people. Do you want to be around people like you or are you in the mood for something different? Finding an easy way back home in the middle of the night is also a concern.
  5. What night do you want to go out? Nightlife amateurs might think nightlife is about the weekends, but nightlife natives know that nightlife happens every night. You just have to pick the right night for you.
  6. How much do you want to spend? New York isn’t cheap as a general rule, but some places are more not cheap than others. Nothing messes up a night faster than realizing you just spent this month’s rent having a few drinks.

New York nightlife is huge. The answers to these questions will narrow down the hundreds of options you have every night into something a little more manageable. From there it only takes a little digging online to find the best spot for your nightlife. It might be easier to just check a top 10 list, stay home or follow the crowd. But if you spend a little time finding your own nightlife you will enjoy it more…

And if all else fails, just send post a comment with your question and I’ll help you find something…

Have fun.

G

How to be a DJ

 

One of the current clichés in modern nightlife culture is the idea that anyone can be a DJ. Digital technology has taken an arcane and underground art and opened it up to the masses, leading to very mixed results.

There is a heated debate within the DJ world about technology, skill, celebrity and other sensitive topics. I’m not here to push a particular aspect of those battles. I want to offer some advice on how a novice can actually become a DJ and contribute to the creative aspects of nightlife culture. Whether you use Technics turntables or Numark CD-J’s, Serato or Abelton and whether you carry crates or computers here are some tips to get yourself started.

  • Love Your Music: Being a DJ is very similar to being a musician in the fact that very few of either group ever makes it to the level of Tiesto or Grandmaster Flash. In the beginning at least, you’re going to need something besides fame and fortune to get you through the sometimes frustrating world of nightlife performance. If you don’t love your music you’re going to burn out fast.
  • Learn Your Craft: There are two main ways to learn DJing; classical and formal. The classical method involves learning on your own or under a professional DJ who is willing to work with you. While this method use to take 5-10 years, now with online tutorials,  YouTube videos and books like How to DJ Right you can cut down that time considerably. This can be a stressful way to learn, but if you want to follow in the footsteps of the masters, this is the way to go.

The formal method involves learning DJ skills in a structured classroom workshop setting. There are several DJ schools currently in operation, including Scratch Academy and Dubspot. Because the skills have been synthesized into a curriculum, what used to take years can now take 6-8 months. While it doesn’t have the rebel cache of the classical method, it saves a lot of time and frustration.

No matter which method you use to learn, keep in mind that you will still need to practice to master the art form. You can try to fake it with an app, or software or other shortcuts, but there is no substitute for technique and professionalism.

  • Get Experience: At some point, you’ll have to get out of your apartment, go out in public and play. This could mean playing an open turntable night at a local bar for you, the bartender and a few friends. It could mean being the warm up DJ at a lounge, department store or house party. There is a skill to dealing with unfamiliar equipment and unfamiliar people that you can’t get by making mix tapes at home. Go. Out. and Play.
  • Develop a Sound: If you play the same songs that every other DJ plays, then you can be replaced by any other DJ. Unless you create your own party, most of us will have to deal with the musical styles of the venue, promoter or event organizer. However, you need to be known for something other than just a generic, cookie cutter vanilla DJ. This goes back to loving your music. The key is to be able to play everything but be known for something.
  • Grow: Being a DJ means being an artist. To be an artist, you have to expand your horizons in terms of the music you play, the people you play for and the things you are able to do. It also means not being left behind as the art evolves. Your collection of music, whether analog or digital needs to grow. Your relationship with venues, promoters and other DJ’s needs to grow. Your abilities not just to play music but to promote yourself and express yourself needs to grow. If you can do that, then your interest and love for the art form will give you back far more than you put into it.

This isn’t a comprehensive article, so if any DJ’s out there think I left anything out, or if anyone has a specific question, leave a comment and let me know.

Notice I left out discussions about buying equipment, industry practices and the pros and cons of one type of DJing over another. There are a lot of other people out there with more experience, knowledge and perspective than me if you want to read stuff like that. All I want to do is show you that there is an art and science to being a DJ and that if you put in the effort to become one you can have some fun, try something new and listen to some good music in the process.

Have fun

G

 

 

 

 

How to Use Nightlife Culture for Networking

by Gamal Hennessy

I was walking into work today and a random co-worker asked me if I went to “industry parties” because he wanted to attend some to meet people “in the business” and get his project off the ground.  I get this kind of request a lot. Some people think that they can just show up at a party with a demo or an idea, sit down next to Jay-Z and blow up the next day.

Sorry. It doesn’t really work like that. My personal story is a good example of what really happens.

Nightlife can be one of the best ways to hustle in New York. The premise of Elizabeth Currid’s book the Warhol Economy is that the nightlife scene in New York drives much of the business on Wall Street, Madison Avenue and every industry you can think of.

But you can’t just show up at a party and expect to connect with the big dogs. It’s a process that develops over time. To get the best results you have to follow the process including:

1)      Get out of your house: Nightlife personality Steven Lewis told me that “You have to go out to find out where to go out.” If you immerse yourself in the scene, then you’ll naturally find out where to go. If you stay at home waiting for the party to come to you, then you will be waiting for a long time.

2)      Expand your existing network: If you have any friends at all then you know people who know people that you want to meet. Hang out with them for a while and you can make good hustle connections. You might even have some fun.

3)      Start low: The bartender you meet today might be a club owner tomorrow. The warm up DJ could become the next big producer. The struggling artist might be the next big thing. Don’t think you have to meet the big dogs right away. It is often better to meet people on the way up instead of when they are already at the top.

4)      Make a connection and have something to offer: No one is going to work with you or take a chance on you if they don’t know you and see any benefit for themselves. Being introduced by a mutual friend helps, but it will only take you so far. At some point you have to be willing to put time and effort into the connection before anything comes out of it.

5)      Be patient: You can’t expect to meet someone on Monday and have them give you a record deal or an advance or anything else by Friday. The bad news is that it might take months or years of building up your network to the point where you can make things happen and a lot of times nothing will happen that helps your long term hustle. The good news is that you can spend that time drinking, dancing and having fun. There are worse ways to meet people.

 

When I got into nightlife culture I didn’t know anyone or anything. Now my network includes club owners, musicians, DJs, liquor brand managers, promoters, designers, writers, dancers, advertisers and a lot of other great people. I’m still growing my connections and expanding my reach, but ultimately I’m out having fun. That is the best way to use nightlife culture for networking.

 

Have fun.

G

Sexy, Rich, Creative or Connected: What is Your Best Nightlife Resource?

By Gamal Hennessy

There is a class of people in New York nightlife that I refer to as nightlife natives. These are not the people who go to the most exclusive clubs. They are not the people who wind up on Page Six of the New York Post or even Guest of a Guest. They are the people who have made nightlife a fundamental part of their lifestyle. They are comfortable in the nightlife environment in the same way a tiger is comfortable in the jungle. There are many different types of natives who have many different traits. The one thing that is similar about almost all of them is the fact that they have learned to be successful using their personal resources when they go out.

I define "success" in nightlife as the ability to consistently going out and having a good time. A big part of that success comes from proper use of your personal resources. According to Catherine Hakim, author of Erotic Capital, everyone has four types of personal resources: erotic, social, financial and intellectual.

This might sound complex, but it basicallly boils down to how sexy, popular, rich or smart you are. Having financial capital means that you can spend money (either yours or someone else’s). Having social capital means you know a wide group of people or you know a few influential people or you are somehow influential yourself. Having erotic captal means you have can attract people because of your charm, style or sexual energy. Having intellectual captlital means you use your intelligence, creativity or experience to succeed in life.

It’s easy to see how each one of these resources can be used in your nightlife. Let's take a common situation as an example. There is a high end club with a very tough door. You want to get in. How are you going to do it?

That depends on the resources you have at your disposal. A girl with a high level of erotic capital can smile and flirt her way in. A boy can pull off the same thing with his style, but he won't have the same level of success unless he shows up with a hot girl (or girls). A boy or girl with the financial capital can buy bottles to get in. A boy or girl who has the intellectual capital to be a musician, DJ, writer, artist, or actor can not only get in, they might be the center of attention. A person can use their intellectual capital to get in by working in certain industries (like media, advertising, fashion or liquor) regardless of their looks or bank account. Finally, a person can use social capital to make connections with the operators who work at the venue or any combination of the other groups. While social capital might not seem useful, it is actually the most influential type of resource management because this person can bring whole crowds into a club. It can even get to a point where he or she controls the door itself. We call those people promoters.

Using personal resources in nightlife extends to every part of the experience. The people who have the widest range of experience can combine different types of resources to adapt to the situation at hand. No one resource is better than any other, but the refusal to use any resources at all (or trying to use resources you don't really have) is a recipe for disappointment. You don't have to be the richest, hottest or most famous person in the club. You don't even have to go to places that require extensive resources to bave a good time. The important thing to remember is that what you bring to the nightlife experience will have a direct effect on what you get out of it.

Have fun.

G

How to Find Live Music in 2012 (Websites, Apps and Social Media)

By Gamal Hennessy

I hear a lot of good music when I go out. I also hear quite a few suspect DJ’s, bartender iPods and other random forms of bad music in bars and lounges. This is not a recipe for a good time. To reverse this disturbing trend, I decided to start 2012 by going to see more up and coming live musicians play.

As well intentioned as this idea was, it created a big question: How would I find music I liked without wasting time seeing bands I had no interest in? There are thousands of good musicians who play in New York every year, but I’m like you, I don’t have a lot of time to sift through a lot of white noise. I started looking for ways to focus in on the bands that sounded good to me and avoid everything else.

Like any other problem in 2012, I tried to solve it with an app* or a website. My research has led me to a few contenders that each attempt to connect you to the music you want to hear. This is by no means an extensive survey, but hopefully it will help you find your way to a decent show or two.

Live Music Apps

Gigbeat: The best thing about this app is that it only finds the concerts of artists you want to hear. When you download the app, it scans all the music on your phone, compares it to a database of artists on tour, and then gives you the listings of every musician you listen to who is currently performing. It will also give you an alert to let you know when your artist is playing in your area and allow you to buy tickets to the show.

But the reliance on your music collection is also the worst part of the app. By definition, music discovery isn’t part of the experience because it will only tell you about artists you already know. Also, there is a lot of information on this app about shows you probably can’t go to. It’s all well and good to know that your favorite singer is playing in Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo this month, but if you live in Brooklyn that’s not really helpful. Gigbeat is good, but a function that can suggest similar local artists to the ones on your phone would bridge the gap to make this app completely amazing.

Gigbox: This app has several layers that make it a good source for shows. It focuses on your location and pulls upcoming performances. When you scroll down and find something you like, you can add the event directly to your calendar, share the event with your friends, buy tickets, read the bio of the artist and see videos of them from Youtube. You can also search for specific artists and venues, but this function didn’t work as well as the location search.

As a music discovery tool, Gigbox works well. For every artist in the database, it also cross references with similar artists and the ability to see and hear them before you go to the bar is key. Once upon a time people were willing to hang out in bars and listen to new bands hoping to find something special. But this is New York in 2012. Who has time to sit through 10 bad to semi average bands to find one good one?

JamBase: JamBase is unique because it has both a website and an app, although neither one is very appealing. The website will allow you to search for artists and shows around the world and once you find something you like you can buy tickets, add it to your calendar, buy their music via iTunes, read articles about the artist, join contests and a lot of other different things. The app is a stripped down version of this. You can still add the event to your calendar and get a map to the venue but I found the rest of the interface rather clunky and annoying to use.

The major downside of both aspects of JamBase is the lack of samples. There is a lot of information to wade through on this site and when I was done I didn’t feel like I was any closer to deciding on where I wanted to go. I would avoid this site and the app until they clean up the interface and provide more solid discovery aspects.

Last FM: A lot of the apps on this list are powered by Last.fm, which is surprising considering how unfriendly this app turns out to be. It has functions featured shows, recommended shows and local shows, but it looks like none of those functions work unless you pay for the last.fm service. I can’t tell you how much that service is or if it is worth it because I never checked. There are too many other free services out there to pay for a subscription. I guess that’s why Last.fm has to make money licensing its system to other apps.

Live Concert: This app allows you to import information from other music services (Soundkick and Last.fm) and then lets you search for shows in your area. As a stand-alone app, Live Concert is redundant. It offers the barest of information about the shows, no suggestions or samples that I saw and no ability to export the show information out of the app. It also crashes sometimes, so it’s probably best to skip this one altogether.

Live & Local: This app sponsored by MTV will access your Facebook music likes and then suggest local shows based on your preferences. It sounds good in theory, but the execution was very underwhelming compared to the other apps. It took me several tries to get it to work at all and when it did analyze my preferences it only gave me two shows compared to the dozens offered up by the other services. This service needs a lot more integration and functionality before it is useful as a live music source.

Reverbnation: This might be the best website for live music discovery. Once you create a profile, you can search by artist, genre, location and date range. As you browse through the results, you can hear samples, save shows to your profile, buy tickets and reach out directly to the artist through FB, Twitter or the Reverbnation social network. As a music discovery site, this has almost everything you need to plan weeks and weeks of live music.

Unfortunately, there is a downside. Reverbnation has an app, but it is for musicians, not for fans. You can get to this website on your phone, but the experience is much better on a computer.

Technology has made live music much more rare in New York nightlife, but it can also lead you directly to the live music you want to see. If you have another site or app that belongs on this list, let me know. I’m always looking for more info.

Have fun.

* All the apps listed here are available in the Android app store. They might be available for iPhone too, but I can’t confirm or deny that.