What makes a city good for musicians? Is it the amount of clubs? The cheap rent? The number of “Bassist Wanted” flyers on coffee shop bulletin boards?
In a word, yes.
It’s the confluence of several different factors that make a city a great place for musicians to live. Some of it is tangible and some of it is just an indescribable vibe that makes musical folks feel at home in a place. Whatever it is, some cities have it and some don’t.
Just so you know, we disqualified New York and Los Angeles on account of them being overly-saturated and overly expensive. Instead, we highlighted cities that allow you to be a slightly larger fish in a slightly smaller (and cheaper) pond.
If you don’t mind the rough winters, then you’ll love Chi-Town for its vibrant music scene and down-to-earth feel. The city has the big world-class city thing New York has, but it’s decidedly more approachable for newbies, which makes it a great place for young artists to start out.
But the sheer size of the place means that there’s a scene for every genre. The hundreds of fabulous venues and the insane amount of music festivals (Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, North Coast, Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, and a full summer street festivals with live music) means there’s no shortage of opportunities to play and see live music.
And unlike NYC, the cost of living in the Windy City is do-able. Cool, burgeoning neighborhoods like Logan Square and Pilsen offer creative types with a budget a great pocket of the city to call home. Plus, in these funky hoods, you’ll be surrounded by fellow artists of all media, along with great restaurants and dive bars that actually offer drinks you can afford on your minimum wage day job paycheck.
The Big Easy is a very easy city for musicians to make their home. After all, one of the major exports of the city is its own distinctive genre. And because of that, the city has a unique and fervent respect for music and its players – their musicians are treasured, perhaps, more than any other group. But just because it’s famous for jazz greats doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty more going on musically. In fact, as the birthplace of Bounce, New Orleans has a flourishing hip hop scene in addition to active Latin music and metal communities.
For cheap, fun places to live, you’re not going to do much better than the Crescent City. When you’re not working on your craft, you’ll be walking around, slack-jawed and dazzled by the city’s amazing food, stunning architecture and frighteningly friendly vibe. And you won’t have to break the bank to rent one half of a cool shotgun-style apartment in young, artsy neighborhoods like the Bywater. Let’s put it this way: it won’t take long for you to feel perfectly at home in this laid-back, creative southern city that treats its musicians like some cities treat their politicians.
3. Nashville, TN
This world-famous capital of country music has, far and away, the most flourishing music scene in the nation. According to a report published by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the city has a whopping 7.8 jobs in the music industry for every 1000 working-age residents, and working musicians earn 156% more than the national average for musicians’ earnings. Considering that Nashville’s cost of living is 11.1% lower than the national average, it’s obvious that this is the very best financial choice for musicians.
Just make sure not to count it out if you aren’t a country crooner. Though that’s what Nashville is most known for, the city also claims to be the very birthplace of both blues and rock ‘n roll. Both classic genres are still alive and well-represented in today’s Nashville…as are, believe it or not, hip hop, and punk music. When you factor in the Southern charm, the amazing venues and the high concentration of fellow musicians, it’s clear that the city is a kind of Eden for young artists.
4. Austin, TX
While it might be located smack dab in the middle of a very conservative state, Austin is known for its liberal, progressive, and artsy atmosphere embodied by the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird.” You’ll likely be greeted with live tunes in the airport (and even in some grocery stores), proving that this city wants everyone to know just how high music is on its list of priorities. The Texas town has been the launching pad of hundreds of successful musicians as it’s long been considered an ideal place for young artists to sharpen their chops.
The city is also home to the seminal Austin City Limits show and several annual music fests, like the world-famous South by Southwest. And if you’re a fan of warm weather, Southern barbeque and food trucks, Austin will be your own version of heaven. This might also be the best choice for a budding musician who can do a techy day job, as many large tech giants, as well as thriving startups, call Austin home.
Portland is sometimes considered Seattle’s little brother, but it certain has established itself as a culture hub in its own right. The healthy music scene has one foot firmly planted in indie and folk rock and the other in punk, but really you can find a bit of everything. And less established musicians will appreciate the large number of small venues and the gigging opportunities they offer.
What also makes it an excellent starting place for young musicians is the fact that community is such a big deal here. It’s easy for newcomers to meet new people and jump into the music scene without feeling the alienation and anonymity that sometimes comes with moving to a new city. When you get down to it, the quality of life in Portland is pretty excellent. There’s an astounding amount of accessible nature surrounding the city and it really is as ridiculously welcoming and friendly as it’s portrayed as in Portlandia.
Just because you can’t afford to move to NYC or LA doesn’t mean you can’t relocate to a music-centric city that will help you launch your career. These 5 cities are positively brimming over with opportunities for budding musicians who are looking for a friendly scene and friendly rent prices, both key factors in staying afloat while navigating the waters of life as a working artist.
Author Bio: Alex Soare is a professional opera singer as well as the founder of Art Rise, an innovative social network for artists of all media. His own experience as a working artist looking to network with peers and find jobs is what led him to create Art Rise. He also enjoys sharing advice and tips that help young artists succeed. For more, join Art Rise today and connect with Alex on Google+.