I spent the last ten days in LA recording my latest CD and networking. I met with a new music publisher I recently signed with, I attended several music business meetups, including one I hosted for my website, How To License Your Music.com, and met a bunch of great people while I was there. It was a really productive time and it was great to meet many people in person I had previously only known via the internet.
I had such a productive time networking and meeting new people that it really got me thinking; just how important is it as a musician to live in one of the major music industry cities? Although many US cities have diverse and interesting music scenes, and there are talented people everywhere, I think it's fair to say that are really just a handful of cities that would qualify as "major" music industry cities. These cities would be New York, LA, Nashville and to a certain extent, Atlanta.
Although there are other cities in the U.S. like Austin and Chicago that have lots of musicians and opportunities to connect and network with people in the music industry, they don't quite compare to places like New York and LA. I've often thought about just how important it is to live in a city like LA or New York and this recent trip has given me even more to think about. Although I haven't reached a definitive conclusion, I thought I would explore the topic in this post.
For my situation, there would be both pros and cons to moving to a city like LA or New York. Let's start with the positives:
1) More Networking Opportunities - There's something about meeting someone face to face and developing a connection in the real world that simply can't be duplicated. You can certainly connect and work with people online these days, but there's nothing like looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand and making a real connection. Living in a city like LA or New York would put you in closer proximity with more people working in the music industry. Simply put, it's easier to meet and connect with people in the industry when they're in your own backyard.
2) Being Around Like Minded People - There's also something about living in an area with lots of like minded people. When you're in a city like LA or New York, it's so easy to find other like minded people. Having people in your life that can relate to and support your endeavors is critical. I don't have a problem finding like minded people in Chicago, but based on the short time I spent in LA I get the impression that it would be even easier to find and connect with like minded people in LA. When you don't have people in your life that can relate to your goals it can be really frustrating and discouraging. If you surround yourself with people that are supportive and understanding, it makes something like pursuing a career in music much easier. No man is and island after all.
3) Music Business Infrastructure - Cities like LA, Nashville and New York have what I call a solid music business infrastructure. There is an ample supply of studios, players, vocalists and so on. Need to find someone to play Cello on your new CD? That won't be a problem in any of the major music cities. Need to find a studio to record your next EP? In a place like LA or New York there are an abundance of great studios to choose from. Of course, this isn't as big of a factor because most decent size cities will have recording studios and musicians. However, it's nice to know that you'll be able to find whatever it is you're looking for easily when working on music projects.
4) Higher Paying "Day" Jobs - I spent a lot of time talking to my producer, Gary Gray, about the possibility of relocating to LA and he made a great point that although the cost of living is higher in LA there are also a lot of higher paying jobs in LA. There's more money to go around and so it makes sense that it would be easier to make money in a city like LA. I don't have any hard statistics to draw from, and those can be pretty misleading anyway, but I get the impression there are plenty of ways to survive in LA or New York as a musicians while you're pursuing income from things like songwriting and performing that can take awhile to establish.
1) High Cost Of Living - Cities like LA and New York have a significantly higher cost of living than many other cities. Chicago isn't the cheapest city in the world to live in either, but based on the little bit of research I did when I was in LA, it seems less expensive than LA overall. Pursuing a career in music has a high degree of uncertainty built into it, so I'm reluctant to add to the stress of that by increasing my overhead substantially. However, if I were to move to LA there are certainly affordable ways to do that. I could share a space with other musicians for example. But my quality of life would most likely diminish at least marginally, based on the research I've done in terms of cost of living.
2) Small Fish In A Big Pond - The great thing about living in a major music city is that there are tons of like minded musicians with similar aspirations. The bad thing about living in a major music city is that there are tons of like minded musicians with similar aspirations. It's a double edged sword. On one hand there are way more people to connect and work with, but there are also way more people competing for the same gigs. When you're a big fish in a small pond it's fairly easy to get jobs performing music, if there's at least a small music scene. In a place like New York or LA the competition is fierce. I think the key to living in a major music city like LA or New York would be to surround yourself with the "right" people. People like to work with people they know and trust. People need to know of you before they can think of hiring you.
3) Quality Of Life - This one is related to the cost of living factor, but it's a little different. Some people thrive in big cities like LA And New York, where as other people prefer smaller towns. I'm somewhere in between. I don't like living in very small towns, but massive cities like New York aren't really my cup of tea either. I'm also not a fan of cold winters, so would probably cross New York off my list. I could see myself living in a city like LA or Nashville though as both have mild winters. LA is massive in terms of the number of people that live there, but is so spread out that it doesn't seem as overwhelming to me as a city like New York. I could see myself living in either LA or Nashville and being reasonably happy with my quality of life, at least in terms of weather and the feel of the cities. I haven't spent that much time in Atlanta so I can't really comment on whether I would want to live there.
4) Starting Over - Although I know a few people in LA, if I do decide to move there I would be more or less starting over. I've moved several times in my life at this point, so I know I could handle the adjustment, but it would bring an added level of stress, at least in the short term. It always takes time to make new friends and get settled when you move to a new city. I don't get the impression that meeting people and making friends would be particularly hard in LA, but it would definitely take time to adjust to living there.
The verdict is still out on whether or not I'll relocate to a place like LA. I can see a lot of advantages to living there but there would also be some very real challenges to moving there and trying to break into the local scene. However, I felt like I got a lot out of the short time I spent there and if nothing else, I plan to start taking more trips there to continue networking and building new connections.
What are your thoughts on the role location plays in pursuing a career in music? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Here's a music video we made during my trip to LA for one of my new songs, Sweet Little Thing, underneath the Hollywood Sign in Hollywood Hills.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.