Emmy the Great is a musician and writer from London, now living in New York. Her third album, Second Love, is released in March on Bella Union. You can follow her on Twitter.
(photo credit: Alex Lake)
“Gentrification” is a zeitgeisty word these days. Ever since most of the world’s major cities started selling themselves off in chunks, gentrification has gone from being a vague urban concern to being pretty much the Drake of issues: an all-powerful source of worry for anyone living in a city that other people want to live in. For musicians like me, gentrification, which, in its current form is better described as super-gentrification, is a double concern, wrapped up in both fear and guilt — fear of being turfed out by the high living costs imposed by escalating city development, and guilt because, somewhere inside, you know you’re part of it.
If you look at gentrification in terms of a biblical plague, musicians are somewhere in the early, milder stages, maybe Plague Four (Wild Animals, possibly Flies). When we arrive in an area, it means in the previous year, a café has opened where all the furniture is made of apple crates. Once we have arrived, more cafés will open, then a tasting room/photography studio run by a craft enthusiast/model will suddenly appear, bringing with it a host of wildly beautiful European people wearing interesting hats, followed by the city’s DILF and MILF diaspora, pushing their complicated prams.
It’s usually super-lovely in these early stages, when you’re discovering new alternatives to cow’s milk and the flat whites are flowing. But then shit gets real. Just one year after I moved to Homerton, London’s trendy addendum to London’s trendy East End, the family who ran the local grocery shop, which had been there since back when the area was called “Murder Mile,” got priced out disappeared. What we — the musicians, the tourists, and yoga mums and dads — should have done is gone with them, because in a matter of months, in came the cranes.
Which reminds me: Plagues Six, Seven and Eight are all construction-related.
And Plague Nine (Darkness) is when you look at the newly built luxury development block at night and see no lights on, because everyone who owns an apartment in it lives offshore.
Plague Ten (Death) refers to the city that you knew.
Here’s my guide to surviving gentrification as a musician.
Have you considered not being a musician?
Crowdfund Your Rent
Crowdfunding services are making huge changes in the way artists interact with their fans to fund projects. As yet there are no official projects on either of these crowdfunding sites titled “Pay Me to Live,” but who’s to say you couldn’t creatively file your housing needs alongside an album project? Like, say you need to record an album for the duration of your next lease, and you creatively forget to mention that the “studio” is your bedroom, and the “songs” are the basic sounds of feeling satisfied by your living situation, recorded every night on your iPhone, which, creatively, you forget to mention the project is also paying for. They’re your fans, right? Wouldn’t they want you to be this creative?
Sing to Your Landlord
Wait, has your landlord heard your voice? Next time a representative from the letting agency bangs on the door to ask what’s going on, unleash your gift on them. Best-case scenario: Tears of joy, you’re the MJ of their heart, rent is free forever. Worst-case: They don’t like your new untitled composition, you still owe them money plus interest, but at least you got feedback on a song.
Sublet Your Room Every Day
It’s useful to sublet your room when you’re on tour but what’s really lucrative is doing it every single day. This way you can’t enjoy the benefits of having a home, but with the extraordinary prices you can charge visitors to cities these days, you’ll have plenty of extra money for strings and Pro Tools plug-ins. The only problem is sleeping. For this I recommend you either stay with a bandmate, if they still like you, or with a family member, partner or friend. If you don’t have access to any of these, see my next point.
Live in Someone’s Cupboard
Some years ago, a Japanese woman found fame after living for nearly a year in someone’s cupboard. You can do this too! Just make sure you find the right clueless individual and the most useless cupboard in their house. This cupboard will probably contain either television connector cables or gluten-free flour, or both. Beware the nannycam, and remember to keep on your tippy toes.
Find Your Monica
One of the biggest mysteries about Friends, other than why Phoebe never hooked up with Gunter, was how Monica and Rachel could afford to live in luxury on the salaries of an aspiring chef and cafe waitress. This was simple, in the end — the apartment they lived in belonged to Monica’s grandmother. Find your Monica, be her Rachel. Or skip the middle-woman and move in with someone’s grandma. Chances are, if they still live in a city, they’re pretty rad.
Sell a Million Records
There’s still money in music, you just have to be really, really successful. So, next time the record company sends a form with the question, “How many records would you like to sell?” make sure you tick the box that says, “1,000,000.”
Or you could just pack up your stuff and move to the nearest, cheapest outpost, and start the whole process again.
As I wrote this piece, my apartment was literally shaking from the construction next door. If my actions have contributed to your being turfed out of your home, I am really, really sorry. If you’re the family who ran the Homerton Express supermarket in 2012, I miss you.