If you want to sing or play music for a living, you probably know cities like Nashville, Los Angeles and New York are where most musicians go to “make it.” But while the traditional music meccas have countless venues, record labels and recording studios, they also have fierce competition for paying gigs.
These days, you don’t have to go to the obvious destinations to get your big break. Here are five under-the-radar music cities that can both inspire your craft and empower you to be heard.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo’s music scene runs the gamut. From blues and jazz at the historic Colored Musicians Club to indie rock at legendary Nietzsche’s, Buffalo’s eclectic music scene has produced a long list of successful acts, ranging from Brian McKnight to the Goo Goo Dolls. With one of the highest concentrations of musicians among U.S. cities, Buffalo continues to support up-and-comers across hip-hop, folk, rock, pop and soul.
If you’re looking for gigs, Buffalo has organizations to get you in the door. Buzzalo brings together musicians, club owners and music-related businesses for the benefit of all. For a yearly membership fee, the Buffalo Musicians’ Association Local 92 offers a two-way referral service that matches artists and music-lovers at no extra charge.
Home to the University of Oregon, Eugene prides itself on DIY music. You’ll find large venues hosting big-name acts, like you would in most college towns, but you’ll also find an electric “house show” scene that sets Eugene apart. You won’t find these house shows in event listings – most are whispered about on social media or by invitation – but many homeowners host live music weekly, and local acts are booked to play for riled-up crowds.
The anything-goes vibe of house shows fuels experimentation and opportunities for new artists. In Eugene, you don’t need promoter connections or a flawless demo to start playing in front of an audience. Just mingle with local bands after they play a set, or chat with anyone involved in the music scene. Follow bands on social media. Chances are, you’ll start hearing about places to play and discover a supportive community to get your career off the ground.
Honolulu is home to hundreds of musicians playing at clubs for out-of-towners. Many locals thrive supporting the island’s rich tradition of native music, but there’s more to Hawaii’s capital than ukuleles and hula dancing. EDM, rock and pop are all well-represented on a nightly basis.
You can find a passionate DIY punk scene bubbling over at venues like Chinatown’s Downbeat Diner and Lounge, or bob your head to the island’s head-bopping version of reggae – Jawaiian – at hot spots like the Republik.
Wherever you’re from, you’re likely to feel at home among Honolulu’s aspiring musicians. Given that the city’s music scene is literally on an island, there’s a strong sense of community among promoters, club owners and the musicians who take the stage. Venues often work together to promote local talent, and artists of all genres team up often. Through diversity, creativity and sheer force of collaboration, Honolulu has become one of the most exciting settings to play music, on the mainland or otherwise.
Madison is no stranger to “best music city” lists. The city clocked in as Livability.com’s eighth best in 2012, thanks to an abundance of music labels, distributors, recording studios and music publishers. The University of Wisconsin college town is where albums like Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Gish” were recorded by producer Butch Vig – who also started the band Garbage there.
While Madison never went away as a music town, it’s been on an upswing in recent years. New venues like the Sylvee have joined Breese Stevens Field, creating a music corridor to attract big-name acts. At the same time, a flurry of musician-led development programs for new artists are ushering in the next wave of talent. The Madison Music Foundry offers 17 studios and a comfortable atmosphere for musicians to learn, rehearse and record, while programs like the Girls Rock Camp offer instruction on a variety of instruments and the chance to play for a live audience.
It’s been a long time since Prince rose from the Twin Cities to redefine pop music. While it’s safe to say no one will ever blend rock, funk, new wave and soul in quite the same way, Prince’s hometown is still known for mashing up styles and blazing new trails. From local hip-hop label Rhymesayers’ boundary-pushing talent to the renowned Minnesota Orchestra, just about every music scene in the city is thriving.
There’s no shortage of venues to jump-start up-and-coming talent. Iconic sites like First Avenue,Varsity Theater, Icehouseand the Dakota jazz club are where many big-name acts got their start or found their footing. Dig a little a deeper, and you’ll find a staggering number of bars, dance clubs and speakeasies that make Minneapolis one of the best metro areas for getting booked.
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