After graduating from the Audio Engineering and Sound Production course, Dan Krochmal moved to New York.
He played and recorded music around the East Village and did live sound at various bars. At the end of last year, he found a foreclosure property out in the forest in the Pocono Mountains (about two hours west of NYC), and is now in the process of building a recording studio and artist retreat as a place to get away from the city and create music surrounded by nature.
We chatted to him about life since graduating, building his retreat and his time at JMC.
Moving to New York
Straight after graduating JMC, I was selected as one of ten acts globally to perform at the 17th Annual Jeff Buckley Tribute concert in Chicago. I nearly exclusively play my own original music, but if I cover a song, it's often a Buckley track. I'd actually never travelled overseas alone at that point, but I knew it would be an amazing opportunity. I had the incredible honour of meeting his mother, who I performed his music in front of at the show and I was also featured last year in a documentary called 'You & I' released by Sony Music about Jeff's early days playing around downtown New York.
After the tribute show I decided to take the opportunity while I was there to do my own solo acoustic tour around the US. I travelled to and played in New York, Nashville, Memphis, and Austin. The main reason I decided to settle in New York was because of the history, and the energy that it has. I'd always felt pulled to it. So many artists whose work I greatly admire (like Buckley, Ryan Adams, John Mayer, The Strokes, The National, the list goes on) all cut their teeth in the same area, at the same venues, all of which pretty much fit into a physical radius of less than one square mile. I played at an open mic every Monday next door to where Jeff Buckley had his weekly residency, which is on the same block where they shot the cover art for Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti", which is also where the Rolling Stones shot the video for "Waiting On A Friend".
That said, it can be a tough place to live, and it takes a certain kind of crazy! It took a bit of work to find an apartment, and I had to stay in Airbnbs for a while. You basically need to find a sublet, because everyone needs your credit score and pay stubs if you want to be on a lease, which is basically impossible when you've only just arrived and don't have either. Craigslist is great for finding sublets, and there's also a Facebook group called 'Gypsy Housing', specifically aimed at young creatives looking for housing in NYC. I was lucky enough to find a place smack in the middle of the East Village. I felt like I was at the centre of the universe, with countless world-famous music venues within a five to ten minute walk.
I guess the main difference between the New York and Australian music scenes is in the diversity, opportunity and support it receives over here. I've been lucky enough to get some awesome opportunities: Mercury Lounge reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in opening for Reeve Carney (who plays Dorian Gray in Penny Dreadful on Netflix, was the lead in Spiderman on broadway, and whose original music is fantastic also). So I did a solo show to a full house there last August, followed by another sold out show in September opening for my good friend Fatai (also from Melbourne) at Rockwood Music Hall.
With Visas: I don't think a lot of people know about it, but there's a visa program offered by a company called CCUSA (Camp Councillors USA). Aside from offering jobs in summer camps and other seasonal employment in the US, they also have many different work experience programs set up in many different countries. Including the one I did, which is their 'Working Holiday USA' program. It's a special one-time only visa which is open only to Australian and New Zealand citizens who have graduated from a university in the last 12-months. In short, I travelled to the US on the 90-day visa waiver, went to Europe for a friend's wedding (where I wrote a 14-song album in ten days in Paris, which I subsequently self-produced in Nashville in an attic I found on Airbnb), and then came back on a one year J1 visa.
Building a Musicians Retreat
The idea for the retreat started because I wanted to create a space where all of my musician friends from the East Village could come up and have a sanctuary away from the noise to get some fresh air, write, and record music. The house is out in the woods, with a lake at the end of the road, and we get deer and wild turkeys walking through the property every day. It was a bank-owned foreclosure listing, so it needed some work to really bring it to life, but it has a huge basement where I will be building the studio itself. The main focus will be on atmosphere rather than a dense equipment locker. I want it to be a comfortable, inspiring, safe space where artists can evoke their authentic selves and record tracks that speak truth. There are so many studios with higher budgets, custom designed rooms, more microphones, etc. that I want this to have a different appeal to make it stand out. A unique sound that people are drawn to, that they can't get anywhere else. Because all the gear in the world doesn't necessarily lead to capturing the magical 'the one' take of a song. In fact, many musicians feel kind of uncomfortable in an environment as clinical as a big commercial studio, particularly when you're paying a lot of money and have time constraints. So I'll also be including accommodation ( in the form of an 'artist suite'). I want people to come up for a few days, hang out, and spend time 'cutting a record', getting really immersed in the process.
Studying Audio Engineering at JMC provided me with a lot of knowledge that has given me a big edge over here, and has helped me to make informed decisions with all of this. I'm very much a singer-songwriter first, even though I studied audio engineering. So for me, it was all about learning how to best capture the best takes of my music. This has also given me a lot of perspective when working with other people in the industry, because I can understand what's happening on both sides of the glass.
The studio classes were always my favourite, and I also loved the ones that involved talking about the psychological aspects of perceiving musical elements, and composing arrangements. Also, classes like electronics really helped me to understand my equipment more - which also led me to muster up the courage to buy and build a guitar amp from a kit, which I never would have done before (I plan on building some of my studio outboard gear myself here too).
I loved having access to the studios at JMC! That really made a big difference when I was doing my first record, City At Midnight. There's also even a song on that album that started as an idea for a project in the Electronic Music unit. There were a lot of things, like learning about acoustics (I am very much not a math-oriented person) that I didn't enjoy as much at the time that I am now super grateful for, especially when consulting with contractors and figuring out how to best construct my own studio. For example, the fact that I can now calculate the resonant frequencies of a room.
My advice to other students…
Never stop experimenting. Listen to all those crazy ideas that your imagination conjures up. If they make you feel something, roll with it. Even if it doesn't turn into anything, you'll learn from the process. There is no 'right' way to do anything, except for finding your own authentic truth and sharing it with the world in whatever way you can. It's better to create, create, create, and then edit the output later. I've written maybe 300-400 songs at this point (plus partial ideas), but have only released less than 30. It's so easy to edit too soon, and lose that initial spark. Let yourself imagine. You have to get really bored, and spend a lot of time listening to yourself before you can figure out your vision of what you want to share with the world. Speaking of the world, go out and meet people! Music is all about communication. There are no genres, just different ways of expressing universal emotions. Go talk with people. If you're a musician, go hang out with musicians who make the total opposite kind of music to you, and learn about the cultural, social and historical contexts behind what they're doing. Do it until you realise they're just like you! And generate as much positivity as you can - not only is it a more pleasant way to live, but other people will want to help you more and be a part of that aura. Good luck. :)
Find out more about studying Audio Engineering and Sound Production.