City musicians: How to hoof it with all your equipment?
June 20, 2006 3:41 PM   Subscribe

How do I transport gear between New Jersey and Manhattan using public transit without it being a logistical nightmare?

I'm a musician who has just started gigging. I sold my car when I moved near Jersey City. I work in NYC, and like to play shows here, but I have to figure out how to get my setup transported to and from venues with less difficulty, because the $15 Granny Cart I've been using is unwieldy and rickety, and taking it on the PATH train during morning rush hour is hell.

I'd be grateful for any general advice, but I have the following set of parameters I'm trying to work within:

- Interstate taxi rides are undesirable due to expense.
- Asking friends to help (on foot or by car) is possible but I need a solo backup plan because shit happens.
- I don't have access to a shop to build my own custom case, but I could cut some foam inserts if I found a good wheeled case. Optimally, it would fit into a car trunk, and could be taken on a subway or bus.
- I can carry a couple smaller cases instead of just one big one, for example my keyboard in a shoulder gig bag.

Here's everything I need to take along, to give an idea of the space requirements:

49-key MIDI keyboard, Laptop, Nintendo Entertainment System, 4 Gameboys, DMX lighting controller (2' x 3" x 6"), Line6 Pod guitar processor (the kidney bean), Fog machine (2' x 10" x 8"), Laser (1' x 8" x 8"), 4 LED PAR36 light cans, Various cables, cords, and AC adapters, a power strip, and some spare batteries.

Hopefully this weird list won't distract anyone from the question which, in summary, is: What combination of transit and cases would make for the least horrifying trip to and from the city? Anyone with experience doing this?
posted by jake to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a hell of a show! Could emulators on the laptop at least rid you of the NES/GameBoys?

Anyway, I find that when traveling with stuff on public transportation is many small bags are better than one big bag. Like a big backpack and two smaller over the shoulder satchel type bags. More flexible that way -- you can tuck one of the smaller bags between your feet, and even sit on the pack if it has a rigid frame. Criss-cross the shoulder straps for stability/security, etc. I don't have any more specific recommendations, because I'm not really familiar with your junk (I prefer light from a bottle, f'rinstance), but I think that this is the type of scheme you want to look into.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2006

Have you considered taking the bus instead? I don't think there is much way to do much of anything on the PATH during morning rush without it being a logistical nightmare.
posted by ChasFile at 4:48 PM on June 20, 2006

Agreed with Rock Steady. I had to transport a load of my gear across London a few weeks ago. I had to carry my desktop PC with all its paraphernalia, my guitar and loads of FX/cables/bits and bobs on the tube.

I had the computer tower and monitor in a bag(! more on that later), guitar in another and cables etc in another, and it was just barely manageable. The PC was too heavy to carry really, I got slight burns on my hands, so you might want to get something on wheels for the bigger stuff. If my PC would have fitted in, I would have used a big drum hardware bag I have, that's on wheels (made by 'protection racket').

So, yes. Several bags make it much easier to transport. BUT I would emphasise that you should prepare how you're carrying all this stuff, making sure that your precious gear is going to be safe. My monitor suffered some pretty horrific scratching on my journey, and I was rather pissed at myself for not making sure everything was safe and secure before the night before the gig.
posted by iamcrispy at 4:51 PM on June 20, 2006

Fog Machine? Laser? What kind of act is this? As a professional theater tech (what board do you have? Leprechaun? ETC?) who is also beholden to the limitations (and blessings) public transit, I'm wondering if you're not being a little ambitious on this one. Since you're trying to cart about an entire production on transit, it is necessarily going to be a logistical nightmare. Given what you will likely have to pay for a nice case and then spend time retro-fitting to your needs, not to mention the hassle that carrying it all around on rush hour trains will inevitably be, could you at least look into buying a beater type-car for several hundred dollars, for use specifically for music gigs? Keep track of mileage, parking, et. al. and you can write the whole kit n' kaboodle off on your taxes (assuming you're getting paid for the gigs).

That aside, I think the cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this would be to buy some rolly luggage, play some tetris with your gear (get it? tetris. . .NES. . . ), and cut some foam inserts to keep it all safe. I personally would shy away form many small bags especially if they are soft-sided. This stuff is not cheap, nor easily replaceable (they don't sell DMX light boards at Target). Keep it in something with hard sides. I've done this when I've had to trasport props and such to and from the theater on the bus, though I did what I could to plan my trips for non-rush hours.
posted by fantastic at 6:15 PM on June 20, 2006

Hi! Thanks for all the advice so far.

Could emulators on the laptop at least rid you of the NES/GameBoys?

Absolutely - I'd also lose about 300 points of geek cred. But it's an option. It's part of the OMGWTF factor to see a MIDI cable going into a NES, and there's this fat nerd shredding on it.

Fog Machine? Laser? What kind of act is this?

I was trying to avoid saying too much, for fear of diluting the discussion. It's a set of original "chiptunes" with MIDI lighting synched to the music. I'm using a $150 Chauvet DMX-50, and four tiny Colorsplash Jr. LED cans. Nothing too ambitious (or large), and the first gig at which I used them was a huge success. The fogger's the biggest piece, and I might be able to buy a smaller once since I'm only playing small clubs yet.

Have you considered taking the bus instead?

The only bus that goes all the way from Bayonne (where I live) to NYC is the 99S, and it's quite cramped and crowded most of the time, and has narrow aisles (it's a "long-distance" type bus). Bus drivers seem to piss and moan a lot when they see you dragging big items onboard, but if it comes to that, they can basically eat me.

The rolly luggage deal is looking like the best option so far, customizing foam inserts to fit various pieces. The commute itself is really what worries me. Just trying to get a bunch of collected wisdom from people who've pulled this off before.
posted by jake at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2006

Definetly a OMGWTF sort of moment. How do you do that? What kind of connector/adapter/cable jujitsu did you have to do for that? I know how MIDI is used in theater and "normal" live entertainment settings, but whaaa? If memory serves, signal out on an NES is COAX, no? Or did you do some kind of thing with the controller/input in ports? I really would like to see this.
posted by fantastic at 7:42 PM on June 20, 2006

I've acted as a one-man documentary film crew moving on public transit before, and I had, by necessity (gear checked out from my university in bags they supplied), a "multiple small, hard-side-reinforced bags" solution. For the most part, that worked as described above, but then again, I wasn't carrying as much stuff and the busses weren't so crowded. I agree that you probably want hard cases in your situation because that's some expensive gear and Shit Happens(tm). In your case, I think the "one or two hard-sided cases with custom foam" might do it.

Your show sounds awesome. Post over in Metachat or something when you have shows; I might be in NYC later this summer, cause I would -so- pay to see that.
posted by Alterscape at 7:58 PM on June 20, 2006

I live in Brooklyn, and I ever since I got rid of my car I use Zipcar for this kind of stuff all the time. Though driving through one of the tunnels during rush hour stinks.

Any chance you can get a huge backpack, like the kind you might use for camping, along with a case for each hand? If you're going to take public transport it's definitely key to get a lot of it on your back. B&H sells lots of good backpacks meant for equipment.

Here's a final idea: you could always rent a practice space in the city to keep your stuff. I know there are some cheap ones in Brooklyn with Zipcars nearby.
posted by MattS at 9:07 PM on June 20, 2006

Oh, awesome idea about B&H! I totally didn't think to look at camera stores - a lot of the equipment has similar form factors. Awesome! I'll go pay a visit.

So yeah, it looks like a couple of customized hard cases and a backpack will be the way I go, on everyone's advice. I'd love to use Zipcar, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of Jersey availability.. It looks really handy, though.

How do you do that? What kind of connector/adapter/cable jujitsu did you have to do for that?

It's a MidiNES! And it is as excellent as you would imagine.

I will definitely post to Metachat and/or Projects about this stuff. Wasn't my intention to generate interest in the show, but I guess that's what happens when you list a NES and lasers in your equipment, whoops :)

The commute itself continues to vex me (and I'm about to take it right now to go to work, ugh) but we're approaching a good solution for the cases. Thank you!

I wonder if people are ever actually turned away from the PATH or Subway for carrying cases/large items. Wasn't there an Ask MeFi about someone taking a chest of drawers on the subway?
posted by jake at 5:54 AM on June 21, 2006

There are limits to the size of items that can be carried onto a MTA subway or PATH train, but you're not even close to it. Furniture? Unless it's a boxed IKEA item, definitely a no-no. Band equipment, however, is probably fine - consider it luggage. Anything but a piano works on the subway, probably. I know several performers who take the subway with fairly large instrument cases (one girl has a cello; another takes a large keyboard to every gig).

Then again, I can appreciate the difficulty of getting from Bayonne to Manhattan with anything heavy in tow. I suppose it's a light rail ride to your choice of a few PATH stations, and most PATH stations are terribly overcrowded and inaccessible. (Most are older than the NY subway - and are even worse to navigate) Because of crowding, there's a rule against taking a bike on the PATH trains during rush hours - and in some stations in Manhattan, the only pedestrian entrance/exit to the station moves in just one direction during rush hours. If it's early rush, you can't get in; if it's late rush, you can't get out. (And don't get me started on the 400-yard, 6-level trek that it takes to get out of the WTC station.)
posted by brianvan at 1:16 PM on June 21, 2006

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