Under the Bridge: An Enclave in Brooklyn for Music and Tech
Over silver platters of truffled grilled cheese sandwiches and what a public relations rep described as "bespoke sodas" served in plastic cups, employees of several neighborhood creative firms gathered on a recent Wednesday at Brooklyn Bridge Park, not far from the iconic Jane's Carousel. It was an informal meetup for local startups clustered in that Dumbo neighborhood--Dumbo being an abbreviation for "down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass"--the focus of which skewed heavily toward music. Although everyone seemed to swoon when some Web producers who work with comedian Louis C.K. showed up.
Nate Lew, the global head of strategic partnerships for CrowdSurge, a Dumbo startup that designs ticket presales and campaigns for bands and musicians, says the neighborhood of today is a far cry from what it was a decade ago. "It was just a bunch of random-seeming businesses here then, like, just bars and back offices for wedding planners. It's changed a lot," says Lew, 30, as he took in the young professionals lunching along the rocks of sprawling Brooklyn Bridge Park. "There are all these young creative types here now."
Brooklyn, New York's tiny Dumbo neighborhood, a residential enclave tucked between the waterfront and downtown Brooklyn, is known for streets paved with century-old cobblestones, impromptu parades of wedding parties posing for photos backdropped by storybook views of the Manhattan skyline, and pizza wars. It's home to Etsy and countless small marketing agencies, which over the past decade have made their headquarters in the ample loft-style offices in hulking former factories with sweeping views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Hudson River.
Today, the historic neighborhood is also touted by New York City as a startup hub and the first Brooklyn appendage to Manhattan's Silicon Alley. According to NYC Digital, an initiative affiliated with the mayor's office, 139 small firms or startups call Dumbo home.
Many of these startups are creative digitally focused agencies, the scrappier, edgier--you know: more Brooklyn--younger cousins to Madison Avenue ad and ad-tech firms. But at least a dozen of Dumbo's young and fast-growing companies fall into a surprising niche: music.
There are talent-management agencies, producers, and ticket-sales firms, many of which are upstarts turning a fresh and tech-savvy eye on the often-antiquated practices of an industry that's been upended by digital distribution.
CrowdSurge, the concert-ticketing technology startup, was founded in London in 2008, had a small office in Midtown, and began seeking new office space last year. "Our original offices were in Manhattan, and it wasn't the place we saw the creativity we wanted," says Josh Baron, 36, who does business development for the company. "It was where the old guard was." Office space in Dumbo was ample and less expensive than in Manhattan or in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where the company also looked.
It wasn't until the company moved into an airy 4,000-square-foot space at 45 Main Street that it realized it was close to several other music startups--and lots of creative firms with which it regularly did business.
"Once we moved to the new neighborhood, we were like, 'Oh, you're here. Of course you're here! We're all here.' It felt nice to have that community," Baron says.
(Check out a photo gallery of CrowdSurge's Dumbo office.)
Neighbors include Mick Artists Management, a musician-management company that moved from Wall Street to Dumbo's 35 Washington Street in 2009, and AM Only, a electronic-dance-music-management company housed in the same building as Etsy at 55 Washington Street. Nearby, too, are the American offices of the long-running U.K.-based indie label Domino Records. And Version Industries, a design firm that specializes in record covers, which moved from the Manhattan's Garment District to 68 Jay Street in 2008.
More than a little of Dumbo's music startup surge can be attributed to the rapid rise in recent years of EDM, or, electronic dance music. AM Only, which primarily manages EDM acts, has seen skyrocketing growth over the past two years; its success parallels the genre's surging popularity. According to two of its staff members, AM Only represents 80 percent of the acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival, the massive EDM festival that took place this past weekend in Las Vegas. (EDM festivals alone are a $1 billion business globally, according to the Association for Electronic Music.)
In addition to AM Only, Mixify, a streaming community for EDM fans and DJs founded in 2012, is housed at 155 Water Street. Other tech firms in that building: E-Spring Consulting, Floating Apps, and Boundless.
CrowdSurge has worked with only a few EDM acts, although one is genre icon Skrillex. Its mainstays are rock and indie bands that want a customized way to handle their own ticket sales, for the small amount of presale tickets not controlled by a venue or Ticketmaster (which, in the U.S., is usually 8 percent of tickets). But its staff has tripled in the past year, from 31 employees to more than 90.
Inside the CrowdSurge office, the construction of which was completed in February, there's a green wall of plants, a cozy conference room stocked with guitars, and a wooden bar facing an open-plan kitchen. If that sounds like a typical tech startup's digs, it is. Nearly half of the company's local employees are technologists. And the company functions more like a creative agency than a ticketing company: It focuses on driving tour interest by creating splashy presale campaigns for bands--and collecting data for those bands on people who are interested.
"At the end of the day, there's no difference between the Rolling Stones and Nike," Lew says. "They're both big, unique brands. We try and come up with big creative campaigns that represent the uniqueness of each act."
Although lots of other startup tenants at 45 Water Street are creative agencies--Huge, Big Spaceship, Armchair Studios, Carrot Creative--there's also TuneCore, which launched in 2006 and works with artists to help them get their work featured on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify. TuneCore has worked with artists such as Jay-Z, Willie Nelson, and Girl Talk.
"In the early 2000s, it was so desolate here, aside from movie filming, due to all the cobblestones," Baron says. "Now there are so many tech companies, and everyone seems so forward thinking. We're lucky to have found home."
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.