Life isn’t always easy for musicians, but where you live can help immensely when it comes to that elusive “big break” everyone’s looking for. Different cities are ideal not only for different types of music, but they can also provide better opportunities or lower costs of living compared to others. Here are the twelve best cities for musicians based on a number of factors.
Let us know what you think of the list in the comments below.
1. Nashville, TN
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,581|
|Cost of Living Index||101.4|
|Best for||Country music, record labels|
Of course Nashville is going to top any list of best music cities to live in. It’s known as “Music City” for goodness’ sake! Not only does it have countless venues and bars for small-time musicians to cut their teeth, but it’s also filled with major record labels just waiting to give an up-and-comer their big break.
Musicians are notoriously not the wealthiest group of people, especially when they’re just starting out. That’s why it’s important to find a city that has both ample opportunities and an affordable cost of living. In that respect, it’s nearly impossible to beat Nashville.
With an average apartment rental price of $1,581 and a cost-of-living index score of 101.4 (100 is the national average), Nashville is quite an affordable city to live in. Plus, with 4.15% of the population working in the music industry (which is one of the highest percentages in the U.S.), there’s plenty of work for the aspiring musician.
Not only is Nashville affordable, but it also has some of the most musical opportunities. The music popularity index per capita determines how popular music is among the inhabitants of a city. Nashville scored a 604, which is the highest for any city in the U.S., even major cities like LA and New York.
When you think of Nashville, you likely jump right to country music. While there’s definitely an overpowering country presence in the city, it’s not the only genre in town. Nashville has a surprisingly diverse mix of music, including rock, pop, gospel, classical, jazz, and blues, just to name a few. Whatever your style, there’s a place for you in Nashville.
While many “music” cities are just good because of the musical venues, clubs, and bars, Nashville takes things a step farther with some of the most powerful labels in the country. Stick around long enough, and you could get discovered by the likes of Warner Music, UMG, or Sony Music. You might even get to play on the biggest country stage of all time: the Grand Ole Opry!
No matter how you break it down, Nashville is a win for any musician.
Famous musicians who got their break in Nashville:
- Dolly Parton
- Justin Timberlake
- Johnny Cash
- Brad Paisley
- Tina Turner
- Chet Atkins
- And just about every country singer ever
2. Austin, TX
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,619|
|Cost of Living Index||119.3|
|Best for||Country music, gigging musicians|
SXSW, Austin City Limits Festival, the incredible 6th Street, ever heard of them? Of course you have, because Austin, Texas is an incredible city for musicians. Not only does it have some of the best live music venues in the country, but you can also snag some of the most amazing BBQ you’ve ever tasted!
What makes Austin a great city for musicians is that you don’t need to be a bigshot to make it there. While there might not be any major record labels around, the countless small-to-medium-sized venues make it perfect for any musician to make a decent paycheck. Just stroll down 6th Street, and almost every single bar, hotel, lounge, and restaurant will have live music playing almost every day.
Austin’s local music scene is one of the best in the country. They really support their own. Almost 4% of the population works in a music-related field, which is high compared to most U.S. cities. Many musicians enjoy their entire career without ever needing to leave the city!
Not only will you score a paycheck, but that paycheck will also go farther than it would in most other major cities. The cost of living in Austin is quite affordable with an average apartment rent of $1,619 and a cost-of-living index just barely over the national average at 119.3. If you don’t mind a little commute, it’s not difficult to snag a sub-$1,000 per month apartment just outside the city limits.
If you want a career in music but don’t want to struggle up that corporate ladder, Austin, Texas is a great place to be a musician and earn a decent paycheck.
Famous musicians who got their break in Austin:
3. Memphis, TN
|Average Apartment Rent||$967|
|Cost of Living Index||77.5|
|Best for||Blues, affordability|
Looking for the best “bang for your buck?” When it comes to affordability, it’s hard to beat Memphis, Tennessee. With the average apartment rent going for under $1,000 (even in the city!) and the cost of living almost 25% below the national average, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more affordable place to live.
Memphis might not have all the glitz and glam of its fellow Tennessee music city Nashville, but it’s full of bars, clubs, and venues pumping out live music every night of the week. Music practically oozes from every corner of the city! If you want to hear the best blues musicians on the planet, just take a walk down Beale Street.
Memphis is where soul music and the blues became what they are today. Elvis Presley called Memphis his home, BB King built his chops in local bars, and Aretha Franklin got her start singing in Memphis churches.
Although you might think Memphis is all about gospel and the blues, it actually has a diverse array of musical tastes. Goner Records is one of the most popular punk record labels on the planet, and it calls the city home. The Gonerfest punk festival is even held in Memphis every year. There’s also plenty of country and rock acts that roam the streets every day.
What really sets Memphis apart from its more-popular cousin Nashville is the feel. Memphis hasn’t been overrun by major labels and cutthroat music executives. It’s still run by the local music scene with all its grittiness and authenticity. Everyone is focused on creating real music, rather than finding the perfect pair of skinny jeans or the right cowboy hat that’s never seen a field. You won’t find any fake musicians here!
Famous musicians who got their break in Memphis:
- Elvis Presley
- BB King
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Aretha Franklin
4. New York City, NY
|Average Apartment Rent||$4,072|
|Cost of Living Index||187.2|
|Best for||Everything, record labels|
Okay, let’s get those scary numbers out of the way first. Yes, it’s extremely expensive to live in New York City. Not only is the average rent for a tiny one-bedroom apartment over $4,000 per month, but the cost of living is also 87% higher than the national average. You’re going to have to score some serious gigs if you want to make it in New York City. However, as the saying goes, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!
Now that the scary stuff is out of the way, just think about all the opportunities New York City has to offer up-and-coming musicians. With 8.8 million people living on a small island, there’s no shortage of listeners. There’s a scene for every kind of music you can possibly imagine. Even If you play something extremely obscure, there’s a good chance you can find people who’ll love it.
There are thousands of venues scattered all over the city for musicians of every caliber. Everything from street corners and subway platforms to local bars and restaurants and all the way up to Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall make up NYC’s immense music scene. It doesn’t matter if you’re a major player or just starting out, there’s a place for you to play and earn money in New York.
Not only are there countless clubs, bars, and venues for every possible genre of music, but NYC is also filled with music industry jobs and major record labels. Even if you don’t want to play gigs until your fingers bleed to make the rent, you can pick up a job at a label or distribution company and get your foot in the door of the music industry without even picking up an instrument. Universal, Atlantic, and Interscope all call the Big Apple home.
Because all the major music labels are in town, New York City is also great for networking. Just by hanging out in local clubs and shops, you could bump into just the right bigwig to give you your big break. There’s a much better chance of getting discovered in a big city like New York versus a smaller town like Memphis.
If you really want to start a career in music—and not just play the odd gig every now and then—it’s hard to beat the immense opportunity that is New York City. Overall, New York is easily one of the best cities for aspiring musicians.
Famous musicians who got their break in New York City:
- Lady Gaga
- Lou Reed
- Beastie Boys
5. Pueblo, CO
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,000|
|Cost of Living Index||85.2|
|Best for||Starting out|
Looking for a jumping-off point to launch your musical career? It might not immediately come to mind when you think about the best U.S. cities for musicians, but don’t overlook the little town of Pueblo, Colorado.
Pueblo might not be as big or popular as other music cities like Nashville, LA, or New York City, but it has a burgeoning music scene and a wonderful arts-filled downtown area where musicians can really cut their teeth.
The real draw of Pueblo is its affordability and location. The average apartment rent is just around $1,000, which is much lower compared to many other locations around the country. Plus, with those gigs you can score in town, it’s easy to afford the essentials you need to live with a cost-of-living that’s almost 15% lower than the national average.
You might not strike it big in Pueblo, but the city is just a skip and a hop away from the mile-high city, Denver—which has an incredible music scene! You can play the big gigs in the city to make some money and return home to quaint little Pueblo and stretch those bills farther.
Just for comparison, the average rent in Denver is around $1,800, and the cost-of-living index is 128.7. Because of the low cost of living and the solid music scene, Pueblo, Colorado is a great little city for up-and-coming musicians to cut their teeth without starving to death. Plus, there’s hardly anything prettier than the Rocky Mountains!
Famous musicians who got their break in the Denver area:
- The Lumineers
- Yonder Mountain String Band
- Pretty Lights
- The Fray
6. Seattle, WA
|Average Apartment Rent||$2,169|
|Cost of Living Index||172.3|
|Best for||Grunge, alternative|
Grunge, ever heard of it? It all started in the lovely Emerald City: Seattle, Washington. Everyone knows Seattle for its ‘90s heyday when acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the Foo Fighters reigned supreme back in the grunge and alternative days. But you might not realize that the city still has a thriving music scene.
Not only is the Seattle music scene as strong as ever, but it has also grown to incorporate other genres like hip hop and indie—Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Macklemore all got their start in Seattle, too!
There are tons of iconic venues scattered all throughout the city, not to mention the countless festivals like JamFest, Bumbershoot, and Capitol Hill Block Party. There’s no doubt that Seattle is definitely one of the biggest music cities on the West Coast.
Of course, all that potential does come at a price. Seattle can be an expensive place to live. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment comes in at just over $2,000 per month, and the cost of living is around 70% higher than the national average.
Even with the high cost of living, Seattle still remains one of the best cities for musicians, especially if you’re into grunge, alternative, hip hop, or indie. It’s a gorgeous city with plenty of venues that suit every musician, whether they’re just starting out or an experienced industry pro. Just don’t forget to bring an umbrella!
Famous musicians who got their break in Seattle:
7. Los Angeles, CA
|Average Apartment Rent||$2,518|
|Cost of Living Index||176.2|
|Best for||Everything, rock and pop, record labels|
Everyone knows Los Angeles is great for the arts. Every aspiring artist, actor, and musician head to the Hollywood hills to seek fame and fortune. While it might seem like a cliché to run off to LA to pursue your dreams, it’s still a solid choice of city for any musician.
LA might be on the more expensive side of things, but there’s no shortage of opportunities for aspiring musicians. The music scene is about as good as it gets, with all sorts of legendary venues and clubs to play in. The Sunset Strip has become famous for producing hard rock acts like Guns n’ Roses and Metallica. But with a population of almost 4 million people, it’s easy to find areas to suit every genre from hip-hop and pop to jazz and classical.
Not only are there plenty of venues for musicians to play gigs and earn some money, almost all the big-time record labels call LA home. If you’re looking to strike it big in the music industry, hang out around Capital Records, Interscope Records, Brainfeeder, Stone Throw Records, and more! You could even grab an internship or day job at a record label to fund your gigging without ever leaving the music industry. Plus, just think of everything you could learn (and all the powerful contacts you might make).
What might surprise you is that despite the incredible opportunities, pristine weather, and incredible beaches, Los Angeles is still more affordable than its major music competitor, New York City. You can snag a one-bedroom apartment for almost half the price that you can in NYC—although it’s still well over $2,000 per month! Unfortunately, the cost of living is very similar to NYC at around 75% higher than the national average.
Despite the higher cost of living, LA is a great city for any musician. The diverse array of music styles and incredible amounts of opportunity all add up to one great music city. Overall, it’s easily one of the best cities for musicians in the United States.
Famous musicians who got their break in Los Angeles:
8. Atlanta, GA
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,723|
|Cost of Living Index||107.5|
If you’ve got some rhythm in your bones, Atlanta might be the city for you. The good ol’ ATL boasts and affordable cost of living with an incredible music scene that’s focused around rap and hip-hop—though they aren’t the only genres in town.
Atlanta, Georgia is nestled right in the center of the U.S. south, making it a major hub for the countless small towns from Alabama, down to Florida, and all the way up through the Carolinas. Musicians from all over flock to the city for its incredible music scene and affordable cost of living.
If you want to score a one-bedroom apartment in the city, it’s going to run you about $1,723 per month. Considering how expensive some of the major cities are, this is completely doable for musicians who just want to gig around the city’s numerous venues. Plus, the cost-of-living index is only 107.5, putting it just barely above the national average of 100.
Atlanta is mostly known for its incredible rap and hip-hop scene. Countless artists like Ludacris, T.I., and Usher built their names in the ATL. There are tons of small to medium-sized venues for musicians to cut their teeth, and one of the largest hip-hop music festivals in the country, the A3C Festival, takes place there every year.
Whether you’re just starting out or want to launch your name into the stratosphere, you can do it all in Atlanta—without breaking the bank.
Famous musicians who got their break in Atlanta:
- Donald Glover
9. Chicago, IL
|Average Apartment Rent||$2,059|
|Cost of Living Index||106.9|
|Best for||Jazz, blues, soul, rock|
The “Great Migration” in the early 20th century brought a lot of poor workers from the southern towns in Alabama and Mississippi up to the North, specifically to Chicago. There, they started playing the blues music they learned down in the Delta, with a little Chicago jazz mixed in. It was the birth of Chicago blues—which directly led to the creation of rock and roll.
It’s not hard to imagine that a city with its own sub-genre of music is a great place for musicians to live. Not only are the blues and jazz still big parts of the city, but Chicago has developed a solid hard rock culture too. Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy roamed Chicago streets playing blues in every club. Later at the turn of the century, hard rock bands would take over the scene, like Fall Out Boy and Disturbed.
Unfortunately, Chicago isn’t the music capital that it once was. While it can’t stack up to the incredible opportunities that fill Los Angeles and New York anymore, there’s still plenty of the city to go around. With a population of almost 3 million people, there’s an audience for just about every genre. It’s not hard to find venues downtown looking for live acts to suit any style. And the blues and jazz scenes are still as strong as ever!
What does separate Chicago from its other major metropolitan players is the cost of living. Chicago is surprisingly affordable! The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is just over $2,000, and the cost of living is just barely over the national average. Of course, Chicago hasn’t earned the best reputation lately with all the crime and violence, but if you stay in the downtown area, it’s a fabulous city with a rich music history and plenty of opportunities for musicians.
Famous musicians who got their break in Chicago:
- Chance the Rapper
- Muddy Waters
- Buddy Guy
- Kanye West
- The Smashing Pumpkins
- Fall Out Boy
10. Portland, OR
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,633|
|Cost of Living Index||130.8|
Nestled between two other major music cities, Seattle and San Francisco, sits a more affordable music city with a bit more eclectic taste. Portland, Oregon is made for musicians and artists of all shapes and sizes. In many cases, the weirder, the better. It’s the unofficial indie music capital of the world!
Portland sits at the forefront of everything that is cutting-edge in the music and arts world. Acts from all over come to Portland to sport knitted caps, wear dark-rimmed glasses, and hold their pants up with suspenders as they sip overpriced coffee. There’s no shortage of coffeeshops, bars, and venues looking for unique acts to fill their stages.
Because music is such an important part of the city, it’s not difficult for musicians of any experience level to make a living just by playing music. It’s a “real” job there! Not only is it possible to earn a decent paycheck, but the cost of living is also quite affordable. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $1,600, and the cost of living is only about 30% higher than the national average. Compared to the nearby cities of Seattle and San Francisco, Portland looks incredibly affordable.
If you want to let your inner artist shine and live in a city filled with incredible art and music, Portland might be for you.
Famous musicians who got their break in Portland:
- The Decemberists
- Elliot Smith
- Portugal. The Man
- She and Him
- The Exploding Heads
- And other bands “you probably haven’t heard of”
11. New Orleans, LA
|Average Apartment Rent||$1,250|
|Cost of Living Index||96.3|
|Best for||Jazz, gigging musicians|
Walk down a New Orleans street, and no matter where you are, you’ll hear nothing but the sweetest jazz music of your life. New Orleans is the jazz capital of the world. From street performers just out having a good time to bars and clubs and all the way up to major music festivals, NOLA culture is entirely built around music.
With the sheer number of live music venues scattered around the city, it’s easy for just about any musician to get gigs. Not only are there tons of venues, but live music is more accessible in New Orleans than almost any other city in the U.S. Just find a good street corner and start playing. It’s almost guaranteed that someone will stick around and listen.
Even with all the live-music venues, there are always festivals and other events looking for musicians. The Voodoo Music Experience and the Jazz and Heritage Music Festival come around every year and showcase the best musicians around. Plus, there’s always a parade running down Bourbon Street. Every night is party night in NOLA! You won’t have to wait for the weekend to play a gig; there’s something going down every night of the week!
New Orleans also boasts the friendliest music community. No matter where you come from, what type of music you play, or your circumstances, you’re always welcome in NOLA. You could be a classically trained pianist who just finished playing Carnegie Hall or a struggling street performer with dirty jeans and nowhere to live, the local music scene will welcome you with open arms—and give you some of the most delicious seafood gumbo you’ve ever tasted.
To make things even better, New Orleans is also quite affordable. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city comes in at just over $1,200 per month, and the cost of living is around 4% lower than the national average. If you don’t mind living just outside the city, you can snag an apartment for as little as $800 per month!
No matter how you spin it, New Orleans is a great city for any musician. The countless live music venues, parades, festivals, and street jam sessions make it easy to earn a paycheck, while the cost of living helps you stretch those dollars farther. No matter who you are, New Orleans will welcome you. Plus, there’s no bigger party than Bourbon Street at night!
Famous musicians who got their break in New Orleans:
- Lois Armstrong
- Fats Domino
- Harry Connick Jr.
- Earl King
- Trombone Shorty
12. Anytown, USA
At the end of the day, the best city for musicians is the city you’re in. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to move to a music city, but it’s not essential if you want to make it in this business. There are countless big-time musicians who started in a small town with nothing but a venue or two and an internet connection.
If you’re serious about making it in the music industry, don’t wait until you move to LA or New York. Work on building your career wherever you are. Every city, no matter how small, has a coffeeshop or bar with open mic nights or live music on weekends for you to play to live audiences and grow your fanbase. Make videos and post them online. Build your social media following.
There are so many ways to make it with music these days that you don’t have to move to a big city. It just takes some hard work and dedication. Whether you live in the backwoods of West Virginia or in the center of Los Angeles, the best place to start your music career is right where you are!
Musicians who got their break without moving to a major city:
- Justin Bieber
- Shawn Mendes
- Carly Rae Jepsen
- The Weeknd
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high-quality guitar and music-related content.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old and am an avid collector. Amps, pedals, guitars, bass, drums, microphones, studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. With my engineering experience, I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.