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Best Places to Live: 7 Cities That Are Best for Musicians

When you think of Chicago, it sounds like jazz. If it’s Los Angeles on your mind, you’re likely to hear the beats of hip-hop. Thinking of sunny Fort Worth or Dallas? Chances are good there is a country song playing in the back of your head. Music is all around.

It was Jack Kerouac who once said that the only truth we have in this life is music. Of course, we wouldn’t go as far as to say that music is the only truth (after all, there are burgers and dogs and Netflix out there), it’s obvious that music holds the power of bringing deeper meaning to any situation and place.

Earlier on this blog, we’ve done our best rounding up the lists of top cities for young professionals, retirees, families with kids, and tech employees. And now it’s time to touch the special and the beautiful. Meet Rentberry’s list of the best cities to live for musicians. Hope it will help you make a smart move towards your music career.

Nashville, TN


Median rental price: $1,395/mo
Cost of living index: 76.43 out of 100
Metro music index: 100
Major record labels: Warner Music, UMG, Sony Music

If you Google something like ‘best American cities for musicians’, you’ll see a whole lot of articles with titles ‘What cities apart from Nashville are good for musicians’ or ‘Top music cities other than Nashville.’ And it points unambiguously to one thing: Nashville is an acknowledged music mecca of the country. Known as the ‘Music City’, it boasts the reputation of a hub for rock, pop, jazz, classic, blues, and soul music. Such famous artists as Paramore, Kings of Leon, Kesha, and many others were making their first steps towards their success in this city. Nashville was named the ‘Best Music Scene’ by Rolling Stone Magazine. The streets of Nashville are brimming with music sounds of all genres. Grab your bags, move to Nashville, and may the fortune and fame be with you.

 

New York City, NY

Median rental price: $2,200/mo
Cost of living index: 100 out of 100
Metro music index: 97
Major record labels: Good Music, Tri-Angle Records, FrenchKiss Records

Yes, we know that we put New York City on a list each time we talk about the best cities for X. And yes, we understand it’s kind of city-discriminatory. But how could we possibly resist if the ‘Big Apple’ is the top location on all counts? Speaking of music, NYC boasts the second best metro music index and remains a home to hundreds of first-class musicians. NYC has it all: from ritzy Carnegie Music Hall to enticing dimly lit jazz clubs to large stadiums hosting annual music festivals of all genres. Let’s face it: New York City is the best place on earth to run into a famous musician at the local coffee shop, and it’s also the best place on Planet Earth to be noticed. Don’t believe us? Ask Jay-Z, Madonna, or 50 Cent for a confirmation.

Los Angeles, CA

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Median rental price: $2,014/mo
Cost of living index: 81.42 out of 100
Metro music index: 96
Major record labels: Stone Throw Records, Brainfeeder, Capitol Records

Well, no big surprise here. Los Angeles has always been the center of the music industry, which is reflected in this simple statistics: present-day California boasts the highest employment rate and biggest hourly wage for musicians. A home to Grammy Award ceremony, world-famous Sunset Boulevard, and hip-hop culture, Los Angeles is sure a place to be if your dreams are mostly about you standing in a spotlight and smiling to the crowd of fans. It’s Los Angeles where Guns’n’Roses, RHCP, and Metallica achieved their first success. LA might be not as cheap as Nashville, but it’s not as expensive as NYC. A happy middle in terms of cost of living, yet a big win in terms of music career opportunities.

Seattle, WA

Median rental price: $1,795/mo
Cost of living index: 92.38 out of 100
Metro music index: 80
Major record labels: Sub Pop Records, Tooth & Nail Records, Barsuk Records

Mostly known as a birthplace of ‘grunge’ rock, Seattle has more music achievements than the majority of people think. It was Seattle where Jimi Hendrix picked up his guitar for the first time. And it was Seattle where world-famous Macklemore made its name and started to head the biggest music charts. Nirvana, Dave Matthews, Foo Fighters, and many other talented musicians have their roots tied to Seattle. Today, the city boasts diversified music scene, a number of annual music festivals (think Bumbershoot, Sasquatch, and Zootunes), and an exceptionally friendly music community. A lot of big music names have come out of Seattle. Move there and maybe you’ll join this list of fame in the years to come.

Chicago, IL


Median rental price: $1,595/mo
Cost of living index: 83.58 out of 100
Metro music index: 63
Major record labels: Thrill Jockey, Bloodshot Records, Maek

If you ask some expert what is the best city for musicians, you are not likely to hear the name of Chicago in response. Gone are the times when the Windy City was considered the nation’s top music scenes. It’s true that present-day Chicago can hardly compete with Los Angeles or New York City in terms of music events, number of music labels, and world-class celebrities calling this city home. However, it’s Chicago where Kanye West and Fall Out Boy started their music careers and achieved their very first success. And it’s true that nothing compares to local jazz and blues, which made up the core of Chicago’s music scene years ago and stays true up to these days. They call it ‘Chicago Blues’ and ‘Chicago Jazz’, and let’s face it: no other city can boast having its own sub-genre.

 

Pittsburgh, PA

Median rental price: $1,850/mo
Cost of living index: 81.41 out of 100
Metro music index: 65
Major record labels: A-F Records, Wild Kindness, Misra Records

This list of best cities for musicians would be incomplete without Pittsburgh – a home to many talented artists, including Christina Aguilera, Wiz Khalifa, and Kenny Clarke. Famous for its ridiculously large number of bridges and the ‘steel background’, modern Pittsburgh has a lot to be proud of in regards to music. Disregard the first impression the city makes. Go little ways and you’ll see why Pittsburgh is ranked one of the greatest cities for musicians these days. In fact, locals are so into music that the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership even proposed an initiative to bring more live music to the streets of downtown. Think of it: local associations make official requests to the benefit of street musicians. How many cities you know do the same?

New Orleans, LA


Median rental price: $1,297.5/mo
Cost of living index: 80.30 out of 100
Metro music index: 78
Major record labels: Cash Money Records, Community Records, Basin Street Records

If you think that New Orleans cannot be a strong competitor to the rest of the cities on this list, you’re wrong. In fact, quite the opposite is true: New Orleans is the top contender to any other city in the US. Yes, it deserves the title of the best city for musicians to live. Wonder why? There is a slew of reasons, but the following two should be enough to convince you. First, New Orleans is known for its most accessible live music scene and distinctive music fests like Voodoo Music Experience or New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (after all, it is a home city of Louis Armstrong). Second, this city is a home to the friendliest music community, which welcomes you regardless of your circumstances and background. You could be either a professional pianist or a street musician with no place to live, the local music family will sure let you in. No wonder why so many articles have been written on the role musicians had played in a post-Katrina recovery of the city.

For the Finals

When it comes to choosing the best city to live, spaghetti against the wall approach might not be the best one to follow. What should work instead is weighing the pros and cons of each city from this article and listening to your heart (if that sounds way too romantic for you, feel free to replace ‘heart’ with ‘gut’). You may search through a dozen of articles on the topic, but choosing the best city for you as a musician is always choosing the best city for you as a human being. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, it’s a judgment call you need to make.

8 Comments

  1. I’ve lived in a bunch of different cities and particularly have spent a lot of time in Chicago. I think Chicago is a good place for certain genres, but as a Singer-songwriter, I think it doesn’t have very much of a community.

    It also doesn’t have a thriving local scene, most of the worthy venues will always favor touring acts for support over local supports. Which makes it difficult for bands and songwriters to make waves in this city.

    I think that’s the hardest thing I’ve come to find in my hometown. I have made great friends in music, but I would describe Chicago as a detached smile or nod as compared to the warm nod other cities have given me, Nashville included. Music should always bring us together, yet I have found so many fantastic songwriters who’ve felt alone and alienated in this city.

    As a creator, I have always found it difficult to find people to collaborate with. It wasn’t till I spent a great deal of time in the UK and in Nashville that I realized what a community could be. This is just my perspective, I’m sure others may disagree.

  2. This article sends the wrong message. I am a Bass player in L.A. 18 years, played in a dozen original bands. Each one I spent months or a year of my time, talent, money only to deal with flaky, unreliable musicians who quit or break up before we got to record anything.

    And sleazy bars only want to make money off you, charge high cover for a 1 hour set at some dive. Your friends don’t want to drive across town and pay cover; there’s no parking.

    L.A. does not support original bands. There’s way too much competition. You will struggle and find no success as an artist here and waste 20 years of your life you’ll never get back.

    Now I’m older, searching for a band again on Craigslist. Not many in my area need a bass player, or have too many superficial requirements. More interested in your look and image than talent. They think they are famous big shots, only interested in young, attractive person with major tour and label credits, very irrational.

  3. Thank you for this article, it has been most helpful in helping me make the right choice for a move for a career in Singing- I appreciate the time and effort you put into this research- Blessings🎶 PS: I THIN Nashville orLAK # 1

  4. I live in Miami, been played original music with my band for over 8 years, had recorded 2 albums in Spanish and English. Like everywhere it is hard to make a living profit with your original music. The rent is affordable ($1400 and over) than other major cities. Wheater is a big factor to play bars, gardens, backyards the whole year. You will need a second job to survive. Many people think Miami is only salsa and Latin jazz and a shopping mall… but the truth is, you will find many others genre in the local scene. I believe Miami is still in transition to a new music and cultural movement.

  5. I agree with Michael about LA but, if you think LA is bad try living in Orange County where there is virtually no music. They have these meetup music groups and me being a left handed drummer, i am completely out. The young kids who play nothing but acid rock tell me that unless they have the right zip code, drive the right car, and dress right they are also out.
    I met one young guy who said he’s been studying guitar since he was 8 and because he lives in the barreo, he cannot work. I don’t understand him, I thought the whole county was the Barreo lol
    Anyway, I hope I can get out of here soon.

  6. You are about 25 years too late with your take on Seattle This place is dead except for the fashionistas That are into melodicore . Sadly many have long left this place . The ones who stay are the established ones- Eddie Vedder, Ann Wilson , Duff McKagan and the like and they are half in LA most of the year . Same with Olympia when I see it on other lists of cities for musicians . The bands they list as active were – back in the 90’s . Many artists are leaving/gone . Studios closing and we now have a whopping 2 rock stations one of which is classic . Add 1 top 40 station if you like and the rent here is WAY higher than listed . This is a tech town now . Not even Ozzy or Elton and having their farewell tours stop here – and that’s sort of a-z .

  7. Atl should’ve been on this list. As much as I despise modern day “trap music,” the city has silently become the Hip-Hop media hub over the last 10yrs or so. Majority of what you hear, in regards, has that similar sound & feel to it. Yes, it’s still music……..somehow.

  8. I’m surprised Portland, OR, and/or the SF Bay Area are not on the list.

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