Live, Work, Play: Artists Find a Home and Record Label Alternative in BKLYN1834
Santiago Felipe for the Village Voice
The house at 66 Dekoven Court sits on an unassuming street in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Nestled next to old Victorian homes and trees clinging to remnants of fall foliage is a four-story, brick-red building with a slanted roof and white trim known as the “Clubhouse.” Inside, dark wood surrounds handsome seating nooks, stained-glass windows, and floorboards that sometimes creak. Speakers are stacked up against a wall. There’s a baby grand piano in one of the living areas, and music wafts in softly from some indeterminate corner. Welcome to BKLYN1834.
For the past seven years, BKLYN1834 has quietly grown into an artistic and commercial co-op for local musicians and creatives. In the same vein as Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit or Gertrude Stein’s 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, the space offers a forum for collaboration, though here with the implicit goal of working with brands like Converse, Apple, and Pepsi. Seventy artists have lived here in total, and seven, give or take, live here at any time. Music is the focus, but videographers, photographers, and other creative types reside here, too. The current vibe is similar to that of a college frat house — there are only men living here at the moment — but cleaner. There’s a calendar on the wall with dates marked off for touring schedules, meetings, and deadlines. Residents split rent and expenses along with household chores. “You have to be OK with people touching your stuff,” says Andrew Thomas Reid, creative director for BKLYN1834 and founder of the Clubhouse.
A corner at BKLYN1834
Santiago Felipe for the Village Voice
Reid started the Clubhouse when he first moved to Brooklyn to produce records for artists like Theophilus London. “I wanted to have that community vibe and find people who were like-minded,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table. A few years later, he linked up with Ron Berger and Glenn Markman (of BKLYN1834), fusing his interest in music with their expertise in advertising and marketing. The result: a synergetic relationship that brings Brooklyn cool to Madison Avenue.
“1834 is a media company that’s taken the route to content through music,” says Berger. The name nods to both the year in which the borough became a city and the coveted 18–34 male demographic, which Berger describes as a “sweet spot” for brands.
And brands are willing to shell out the big bucks to tap into post-gentrification Brooklyn. Completed projects run the gamut from music videos and backyard jam sessions for an artisanal soft drink to a promo spot for Blackstone Properties with rapper Pharoahe Monch.
Corporate checks are bigger than unsteady gig work, but some artists grapple with balancing art and commerce. How much selling is selling out? There’s no ambiguity here. Art created within these four walls can and will likely be used for promotional purposes — and that’s considered a good thing.
“That’s what we do: Develop the craft and then plug [artists] into collaborations. If you’re an intelligent artist trying to make a career, especially out of music, you recognize how intertwined those things are,” says Reid. “Hardly anybody can support themselves selling records on iTunes. When you’re maturing as an artist, you have to really figure out how to monetize your brand and your craft.” He emphasizes that artist development and overall mentoring are also a part of the deal. “That’s an important part, playing this a&r position.”
As such, the incubator is releasing its first album on November 13, which features residents of the house: seven songs and seven music videos from seven bedrooms.
“Everything that was done in the compilation started and ended in this building,” says Berger. They hope this will mark the beginning of several independent releases from BKLYN1834 and possibly the opening of additional Clubhouses across the world. If they can make it in Brooklyn, maybe they can establish a new paradigm for the music industry. “One thing you can get from anyone in the [music] industry chain is that the industry sucks,” says Berger. “What these guys realize is, if you’re going to be coming into the industry now, if you fall back on the things that everyone says isn’t working, that’s not a very smart route.”
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