Careers in the Arts | Artist Spotlight: Karina Rykman (New York, NY)
By: Kelley Lauginiger | All photos by Vic Brazen (@wnwmedia)
Staying Busy: A Key to Success in the Arts
At Acceptd, we’ve interviewed lots of artists over the past year or so. No matter their disciplines, everyone divulges a similar story when discussing their unique formula to success in the arts: you have to stay busy.
Strategically using all the time in the day to create culture they’re passionate about including touring the world performing live music, performing on stilts as part of a circus troupe, teaching students to sing and perform, or writing and performing stand-up comedy, each craft requires dedicated, hard work. You can’t be lazy or expect anything to come to you if you want to be successful in the arts. Sure, you could make it a hobby or a part-time gig, but if you want it to be your life, you truly have to earn it.
Karina Rykman: Touring Bassist and Concert Promoter Extraordinaire
It’s fair to expect a high school student’s eyes to instinctively roll when given life tips from adults two to three times their age. But take it from someone who is 24, successful, and living her dreams: busy is key. Karina Rykman tours the country as a professional bassist with the eclectically talented keyboard and piano virtuoso, Marco Benevento’s band, while simultaneously booking NYC concert cruises from her tour-bus while out on the road.
“You get one life. One chance to do what it is you want to do,” Karina said about staying busy and working on simultaneous projects. “My main advice is kind of cliche but its true: follow your heart, do what you love. But, just don’t wait. Go do it now!”
Q&A with Karina Rykman
Kelley Lauginiger: You stay constantly busy and juggle a ton of different stuff. Can you talk about the projects you’re currently involved in?
Karina Rykman: Absolutely. Well, the two big ones are of course, playing bass in Marco Benevento‘s band, and working with Rocks Off. Rocks Off is a concert promotion company with the flagship event being the concert cruise. We put on tons of shows from April through October that run for three hours each around the New York harbor.
I have been doing that for six years now, which is crazy! I came to do that because I was in a band that played one of these boats in the summer of 2012, which was right between high school and college for me.
Kelley: That is such a cool aspect of being from New York.
Karina: Definitely. I went to high school in Manhattan and went to NYU for college, so it was very…New York-centric. I met Jake (Szufnarowski) who runs Rocks Off that time I played, and started working for him the very next day. I went right up to him and asked him to hire me and convinced him that I would be a good intern, even though I was young. I’m still there six years later and it’s been a long ride with that, which I love. I know I’m very, very lucky to work with someone who allows me to go on the road as much as I do. I work from the road all the time for Rocks Off when I’m on tour with Marco from the tour bus.
Most people who tour, when they come home, they don’t know what to do. People will pick up shifts, or do whatever, but I like having the steady gig at Rocks Off to come back to when I come home.
And with Marco, it’s been since 2016 since I took over the role from one of my favorite bass players (Dave Dreiwitz). Two years now! Which is amazing. It’s truly been a dream come true. I also started the Karina Rykman Experiment which is a totally experimental trio featuring two of my friends from NYU (Adam November and Chris Corsico). That is really not easy listening, but a lot of fun if you’re into really out-there-jazz. And I’m always for hire for other random things.
Kelley: Like musical gigs?
Karina: Yep, I always try to take the random music gigs. And not just bass. Last year I was on the Today Show with Julia Michaels playing acoustic guitar (video below).
Kelley: That’s so great. You definitely stay busy. Can we expect to hear vocals from you on the upcoming Marco album as well?
Karina: Actually, yea, you can. I definitely recorded some vocals for the new album, no lead vocals, but I tracked a bunch of backing vocals on it. The songs are so awesome and I’m excited for everyone to hear them!
Kelley: When can we expect to hear it?
Karina: I hope soon! It’s comin’ up, but I can’t say exactly when. Hopefully by the end of the year.
Individualized Arts Study in Higher Education
Kelley: Ok, that’s fair. So, can you talk about your program at NYU for people considering doing an unorthodox type of major?
Karina: Definitely. My program was called Gallatin (School of Individualized Study).
Kelley: Cool. And did you get to pick your own classes for that program?
Karina: Exactly, yes. Basically every student presents a colloquium, which is kind of like a thesis you’d have to defend, but more like a conversation. You talk with your adviser and two faculty members, who you choose because they have ideas that resonate with you. Then you write a big paper on it and present your ideas as the colloquium. Everybody names their colloquium, and takes classes based on what they want to do and what they want to study.
Mine was called “Invention and Distribution in Contemporary Music.” It was the merging of the two worlds that I’ve described to you. Basically everything I did and have done on the outside, which was playing music, the creation and invention, and then doing the concert promotion, which was distribution. Really all of it is technically distribution, but, when I say distribution, I mean the business of music. Selling it as a commodity, and how to treat it as such. And then there’s the invention piece, which is completely intangible and conceptual.
So, I took the two things I was most interested in, and merged them into one major that I made up. With my advisers’ help, of course. It was super interesting, and honestly, it was the only place I could have gone.
My parents are both professors at Columbia University. My mom’s actually coming up on her fortieth year teaching there; she’s the head of the French department. So I would have gone there completely for free, and it’s close to where I grew up, and all of that. But, we all knew, it was just too nerdy. I didn’t need to be forced into classes where I’d be reading The Iliad and The Odyssey again. It just didn’t… cater to my needs, quote, unquote.
So, when we heard about Gallatin, we knew it was more what I was looking for. I had a close family friend that was a year older than me that went there and brought it into our consciousness, me and my parents. And it was just like: wow, this is the only place that I could go. They’re super, super encouraging of kids to go do internships, explore, and get experiences outside the school walls, which was huge for me.
I interned for Rocks Off the entire time I was there, which was a huge learning experience. You were not allowed to work somewhere for more than two semesters in a row. But, if you could prove your role was changing and evolving, that things were developing for you in some way, you could. And because I was able to spend so much time there, I got more responsibility all the time, and was able to learn a lot by staying there for my whole college career basically, and Gallatin was supportive of that.
When it comes to the music business, there is no way what you learn in school is more important than learning how to put on shows, network with people, and just basically be able to hang with people in the business. You do need to be educated as well, of course, but I loved that it was split to let me experience learning in the real world, too.
Advice from Karina
Kelley: So would your advice to blossoming artists be to get out there and “do,” more than read about it in a book?
Karina: Oh, 100%. That’s not to say that if you looked at my bookshelf you wouldn’t see a million books by musicians, for musicians, Music Business for Dummies, a million things of that sort. I’m not saying reading and studying doesn’t matter, because it does. It absolutely does. You have to be able to converse and carry on a conversation about things in the world.
But, my first tier of advice would be: get out there, do something, and start early. I started playing when I was 13. I knew if I couldn’t play music professionally, I wanted to be near music professionally. When I was 16, the summer between 10th and 11th grade, I interned at a place called Vector Management under a guy named Nick Stern, who I still know to this day and we have a lot of mutual friends. We always laugh, like, how many years has it been!?
You really realize that relationships matter, and who you know is everything in this business. But, I mean, I was just lucky I got to work with him at such a young age. He was managing Kid Rock, he had a record label called 710 Records where he put out Black Angels, Phosphorescent, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, so it was a really interesting place to be at the time. The following summer I interned at Relix magazine who has an amazing internship program, too.
Kelley: So very well said. Thanks so much for that. All our readers in high school or heading to college soon can really benefit from hearing about these recent experiences.
Karina: Definitely. 100% just get out there. Meet the people. Just, go! And start early. Just think, there’s always someone who started earlier than you. They could beat you to the punch! Don’t wait. If you have the interest, find your people, find your place, and try to make those connections.
Kelley: Absolutely. This reminds me of a conversation from a few months ago when we featured Prisma Guitars founder, Nick Pourfard on the blog (click here for his interview). He talked about the importance of staying busy, too, but we talked about risk vs. reward for awhile and he identified his main regret, if you want to call it that, as not delving all his time and resources into his craft earlier on. Meanwhile, you are successful as well, but diversify your time and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. What do you say to that? Is it just different for everyone?
Karina: That’s a super interesting question. Wow. That’s actually something I reproach myself for a lot. I think about that often because most musicians who would have a gig like Marco, or something comparable, wouldn’t want to continue working on the business-side the way that I do. When I’m home, I essentially go to an office and I work. I answer calls, and stare at a computer screen like so many people do. I deal with agents, managers, and all kinds of stuff that musicians traditionally hate doing.
Kelley: But, you’re interested in it.
Karina: Yes, thank you, You get it. I think about it a lot. Would it be better to put all your eggs in one basket? A lot of people do say yes. But I can’t help seem to narrow it down to one basket. I like keeping the other half of my brain engaged and interested. Even if I stopped working for Rocks Off, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have some kind of business venture or something on the side. Dre has Beats by Dre, I don’t know what to tell ya (laughing). But, I know for me that it works. I love it. I love everything I do and am so lucky for that.
But would I give the advice to anyone to wear a lot of hats? Absolutely not. It’s not for everybody. To me, I totally enjoy that. I like coming back from tour, saying, “Wow! That was so fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that, and I can’t believe I get to play music every night with people I admire so much.” But then,”Okay, let’s turn on a dime right here and head to the office tomorrow.”
I kind of thrive on that I feel like. Maybe that will change. But, for now I love wearing the different hats. I see myself as someone interested in many different things and I don’t really see that changing.
It’s pretty funny when people find out I do both. I sent Delicate Steve (Steve Marion) a boat offer and he responded, “Wait, is this like… Karina, Karina?” And then I laugh and explain that I “still do this,” but in reality, I’m like, “Heck yea!!! I still do this!” I love it. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. It’s that simple.