In sympathy with the African adage that It takes a village to raise a child, I-Beam has been a cooperative effort from the outset. Brooklyn-based musicians such as vocalist Yoon Sun Choi, alto saxist Matt Blostein, trumpeters Shane Endsley, Rich Johnson, Kirk Knuffke and Nate Wooley, guitarist Jon Goldberger, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassists Geoff Kraly and Eivind Opsvik and drummers Harris Eisenstadt and Vinnie Sperrazza have all played active roles as monthly renters, resident artists and/or performers. To help outfit the room, tenor saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo donated a drum set, local band One Ring Zero contributed speaker cabinets, others furnished bass and guitar amps and a Schimmel concert grand piano was made available on semi-permanent loan. Sound baffles were added around the sides of the room that, along with a high ceiling and soundproof walls, created an ideal acoustic environment for uninhibited blowing. The final step was a benefit concert to raise money for chairs. Everyone's chipped in a little bit to help me, states Drye, because they know how expensive it is to manage something like this in a space this big in this economy.
I-Beam's progressive policies embody a business model that fosters cooperation between artists and management. The venue covers basic overhead costs by renting rehearsal time--offered at extremely affordable rates--and by charging artists a nominal honorarium to perform. In return, musicians receive promotion (press, brochures, postcards) and staff support (collecting donations, selling CDs, security, clean-up) for their concerts, plus all proceeds from the door. The policy goes a long way toward alleviating the all-too-typical tensions arising between venues and performers. If a particular gig undersells, for example, costs are minimal to each party and even a moderate crowd benefits both. Many musicians, for example, worry that a poor turnout at a club will forfeit their chances for future gigs there. Observes Drye: If we can create a community here of great people playing and people know that there's great music here, that they can't lose if they come here, then that's a win-win for everybody.
So far the system has worked well. Beginning with a few events in April of 2008, I-Beam has held regular Friday and Saturday concerts since June and July, many of them curated on a monthly basis by various musicians. This past January Rich Johnson hosted Fridays, while Yoon Sun Choi and Jacob Sacks dueted Saturdays; in February Vinnie Sperrazza and Matt Blostein co-curated Fridays (one successful show included Tony Malaby as guest) and in March drummer/composer Harris Eisenstadt brought his nonet into the space Saturdays. This April, Yeah Yeah Records will present artists from their roster on Fridays, while Saturdays will showcase a series of trombonist-led bands.
Offering the advantages of affordability, superior acoustics, accessibility and an artist-friendly environment, I-Beam is in a prime position to both assist and benefit from the local music scene. As Drye observes, A lot of people don't really know about all this creative and cool music that's happening in Brooklyn. They grew up here and they don't even know about it. I mean, there's tons of stuff. Artist-run venues, he suggests, are practically a necessity in the current economic and cultural climate. There's so few clubs and it's so hard to get a gig at so many of them and some have become very specialized, so artist-run venues are becoming more and more ubiquitous. I think you're going to see more of them pop up, especially in New York, because everyone is hungry to play and to be out playing. So that's what this is basically becoming, is a musician-run venue. I mean, I'm a musician. I'm not opening a bar, but we're running a venue.
~ Tom Greenland