Ever have one of those times when you think about doing something kinda crazy for a few days? Maybe talk to a few friends about it, and fantasize while you’re laying in bed?
Most of us do that sometime or another, but most people shrug off their ideas and go back to their regular life. Dotan Negrin is one of those people who didn’t shrug off his crazy idea, but instead took off around the world with a piano!
Benjamin Kiracofe made this cool short video below about Dotan’s travels when he set up his piano on the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Then I caught up with Dotan by phone this month to get the full story, and it’s pretty rad. Check out the interview below after you watch the video. You can also see some of his Youtube videos and pics from his adventures below.
UnBound: So how did this all start? Like, where did you come up with the idea of traveling around with a piano??
Dotan: It’s a long story. So I got, I got out of college in 2008, and at the same time as the crash, the market circuit crash, and I didn’t really know what to do outa college, you know. I was kinda lost.
I jumped around from job to job. I tried so many things. I was in real estate with my dad for a little bit, but I quit after a couple of months. I started an eBay store. I created a non-profit at one point that’s actually still running.
Then in 2010 I got a job working for one of my father’s friends who was an artist, and the job was to drive from New York to Miami. Then he’d pay me 500 bucks to do this in three days. I thought it was cool.
I kept working for him doing deliveries, moving art, hanging art and going to different art fairs and driving his truck and I’d do it for twelve bucks an hour as an assistant for him. And it came to the point, I’m driving a lot, and I was thinking… “I’m 23, why am I working so hard towards this other guy’s goals? I want to start working on my own stuff.”
Dotan: “And so I asked myself “What is my dream? What would my ideal life look like?” And I had certain criteria like I want to be traveling, I want to be able to make money while I travel. I wanted to perform. I wanted to meet people, and see new places and be celebrating life every day. And exploring and learning every day.
And I came up with this idea to travel the world with a piano, because I wanted to do something no one’s ever done before and do something unique. Something I can say that I actually own. That this was mine.
I’d played piano for about four years at the time. I came up with the idea of playing piano on the streets, and I thought it’d be cool, a neat idea. I started doing it in New York, and I’m meeting so many cool people, and this is a really awesome. I’m meeting a lot of people having a lot of fun. You know, I really wasn’t the greatest piano player. I was playing like Fur Elise and Canon in D and like really very basic piano pieces. But I didn’t really care. I just really enjoyed the experiences and the people that I was meeting.
I was playing piano here and there, I did it about four or five times in New York. And around the second time I did it, the piano fell back and landed on my hands. It crushed two of my fingers, and I thought that I would never be able to play again. And it was that kind of moment that was like, you know, if I don’t do this now, I might never do it.
That incident really propelled me to buy the truck. I got very lucky. Three months later after I healed, I was be able to play again. My finger still looks kind of weird and ugly. But I bought a box truck and piano and I hit the road. I’m like… I’m going to do this and people said, “You’re crazy. Don’t do this. It’s stupid.” But you know, here I am 6 years later, and I have these incredible experiences that most people will never have.
UnBound: What do you think is the biggest thing you got out of doing all this?
Dotan: I think I got insight into the world that most people never really get to see. How your energy, the way you feel, your intuition… how it all plays out and how these things are all connected to your experience on this planet. I got some insight through this experience of living in the van that really opened me up to looking at this world in a very, very different way.
For my first three trips I did the United States. The second trip I did from New York to Florida. But every trip I did I wanted to add a different challenge or a goal. My second trip, I was like, oh, how can I do this and maybe break even? So I did this trip where I kind of combined together this gig working for that artist. I went to Florida to deliver some paintings and I took a piano to make some money and uh, came home, with uh, and I broke even.
My third trip I started with only $2 and one gallon of gas and traveled for about two months and actually came home with profit. So the goal was, how can I make money while traveling? So I was adding these challenges.
For the fourth trip was… I went to Canada. The only other place to go next would be to go south. So I went through Mexico all the way down to Costa Rica – eight countries. Oh my God, I had some really weird, crazy experiences. I was traveling through there, speaking different language. Seeing how people react, how some places were kind of dangerous.
And a part of that goal was I wanted to produce a TV series or Youtube TV series. I wanted to pitch that to Travel Channel or something. That production of that was actually a complete failure. I never released any of those videos, because I was again learning, I was constantly learning. And I failed so many times at this practice.
The fifth trip was Europe. I flew to Paris. I found a piano on their Craigslist for about 300 euro. I brought the piano, rented a regular van, and then I traveled through seven or eight countries for three months and came back. The whole thing cost me the same amount as living in New York and in like a one bedroom studio apartment.
UnBound: I’m wondering what you would say to other artists or people who have some kind of crazy idea that they’ve thought of.
UnBound: I would say to just, the key thing is to start… and to put yourself into situations that might actually be embarrassing or set yourself up for failure. And fail! Go do it. Fail as many times as you can.
You know, I think it’s become very cliche now, because you see these quotes online and it kind of sounds like that. But, I’ve embarrassed myself hundreds of times in front of people on the streets. These experiences have only gone to help me, and they’ve allowed me to become fearless and to not care what people think. And letting go of that fear – it’s such a therapeutic and valuable experience especially for artists that want to go out there and create and inspire.
Turns out it’s a key element of some of the greatest thinkers – that they stopped caring what people think, and they’ve let go of those fears. So I think for me probably the biggest thing is that doing, creating, performing and being an artist has been therapeutic for me to let go of my fears and to open up. Yeah. I let go of my fears to open up to new possibilities in my life.