Downtown Detroit Riverfront View From Ontario

The Best Cities For Musicians To Live And Thrive

Molly Grace7 minute read
October 20, 2021

As a musician, you may have always dreamed of living in New York or Los Angeles – but the high cost of living in these areas can make them less of the dream you might be envisioning. While these places are known far and wide for their lively music scenes, they’re definitely not the end-all be-all of making a music career for yourself. Thanks to the Internet, it’s no longer necessary to feel you have to move to a city you can’t afford just to make a name for yourself.

If you’re trying to get your big break, you don’t have to sacrifice financial peace of mind for location. There are plenty of places across the country with flourishing live music scenes where you can not only make your start, but thrive as a musician. Let’s break down a few of the best – and most affordable.

8 Best Cities For Musicians To Affordably Live

In this list, we’ll take a look at 8 of the best cities in the United States for musicians, aspiring and established alike, to make their home. This collection of cites was compiled based on the cost of living, availability of affordable housing, local music scene and history of each location, among other factors.

The following cities are listed in order of most to least affordable based on U.S. Census data.

Detroit, Michigan

Although it might not be the first city you think of, Detroit is actually a major music city in the United States and has been home to numerous influential voices through the decades. Detroit is perhaps best known as being the home of Motown, a style of R&B named for the iconic record company founded by Berry Gordy Jr. that rose to fame in the 1960s and remains one of the most influential record labels in music industry history. Motown produced numerous superstars, from The Supremes to The Temptations and even the Jackson 5.

The city also has a lively jazz and punk scene and is home to dozens of historic venues, such as the Masonic Temple Theater and Saint Andrew’s Hall. With a lively and busy downtown area, and numerous venues throughout the city and greater Metro Detroit area, Detroit is a great (and very affordable) place to get your start as a musician.

Best for: R&B, punk, jazz, rock

Famous musicians: The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Eminem, The White Stripes, Sufjan Stevens

Population: 670,031

Median monthly rent: $824

Median age: 34.7 years old

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Tennesse

When considering moving to Tennessee, the first music city you think of is probably Nashville (it does literally refer to itself as “Music City,” after all). Nashville isn’t the only city rich in musical history in Tennessee, however – Memphis is a very worthy contender. The roots of many classic American music genres are planted in Memphis; in fact, the city has been home to numerous musically foundational legends such as B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Memphis houses many live music venues, the most famous of which are located on the legendary Beale Street. This three-block row of clubs, museums and restaurants is chock full of blues history and plenty of modern live acts as well. This little area of downtown Memphis also hosts a music festival every spring which attracts a variety of big names, from Dave Matthews Band to Cardi B.

If you’re big on the blues or just excited to move to Tennessee, Memphis can be a fantastic option. With a median monthly rent of $901, this city is not just great for music lovers – it’s surprisingly affordable, too.

Best for: R&B, soul, gospel, country, rock

Famous musicians: Al Green, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Justin Timberlake

Population: 651,073

Median monthly rent: $901

Median age: 34 years old

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

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Pittsburgh is another great and reasonably affordable city for musicians to hone their trade. As the second most populous city in Pennsylvania, this midwestern hub is full of things to do and has a thriving and diverse downtown and cultural district. Pittsburgh has been the home of a number of popular modern musicians as well, including names such as Mac Miller and Christina Aguilera.

There are plenty of venues across Pittsburgh both big and small, some of the most notable including Mr. Smalls Funhouse, Stage AE, Thunderbird Café and KeyBank Pavilion. Many different musical genres thrive and coexist in Pittsburgh, and it’s not uncommon to see drastically different artists sharing the stage. If you love variety and genre-bending music, Pittsburgh might be a great place for you.

Best for: Rock, pop, jazz

Famous musicians: Christina Aguilera, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Anti-Flag, Billy Eckstein

Population: 300,286

Median monthly rent: $958

Median age: 32.9 years old

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans

The music scene in New Orleans is nothing short of magical. Jazz is huge in the city, especially during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and other celebrations – but there are dozens of other genres to listen to and explore in this beautiful southern city, too, and they’re always merging and evolving. New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street is the place to be for musicians of all styles and talents, and there’s always live music to be heard there in tandem with constant celebrations and lively bars and clubs.

The culture of this city is so unique and unlike any other city with its roots in music anywhere in the country. There are live music venues all over the city, with some of the most notable being the legendary House of Blues, Preservation Hall and Tipitina’s. Whether you come for the affordable cost of living, unique blend of music and culture, colorful shotgun houses or the jazz clubs, there’s never a dull moment in this city.

Best for: Jazz, blues, R&B, zydeco, bounce

Famous musicians: Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint

Population: 390,144

Median monthly rent: $998

Median age: 36.8 years old      

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville North Carolina

Asheville is a city in North Carolina located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite being much smaller than other big cities for musicians, Asheville has been dubbed “the new must-visit music city” by Rolling Stone. This mountain town’s roots are in bluegrass, but you can hear a wide-variety of genres there today, from rock to EDM and everything in between. It’s home to the highly respected Echo Mountain Recording Studios, which previously worked with clients such as Zac Brown Band and Steve Martin.

There are lots of unique venues in Asheville, including places like The Orange Peel, Salvage Station and the Odditorium. While this city’s median monthly rent and cost of living might exceed others on this list, the musical variety here can’t be beat – and it still costs considerably less to make it as a musical artist here than it would in New York City, Chicago or L.A.

Best for: Bluegrass, americana, rock, hip-hop, electronic

Famous musicians: Billy Jonas, Luke Combs, Chase Rice

Population: 92,870

Median monthly rent: $1,043

Median age: 39 years old

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis Minnesota

While Minnesota might not be the first state that comes to mind when seeking a city with a lively music and arts community, Minneapolis is actually a place full of musical history and constant up-and-coming talent. It’s notable for helping cultivate the early careers of legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan and Prince. Whether you’re looking to play bigger venues or the many bars, clubs or speakeasies here, Minneapolis is a great place to make music.

Of the many venues in Minneapolis, the most famous you can explore is First Avenue & 7th Street Entry – a historic club that was used as a filming location for parts of Prince’s Purple Rain film. Beyond that, there’s the Icehouse, Ritz Theater and plenty of smaller bars and pubs. As a frequently highly-rated place to live, Minneapolis makes a great home for any musician – on a budget or not.

Best for: Jazz, blues, folk, gospel, hip-hop, rock

Famous musicians: Prince, Semisonic, Soul Asylum, Bob Dylan

Population: 429,606

Median monthly rent: $1,207

Median age: 32.3 years old

Austin, Texas

Austin Texas Skyline

Austin, Texas is known as the live music capital of the world, and for good reason. This city, Texas’ capital, is dotted with music venues and filled with musicians from all genres and corners of the world. Austin is also home to the Austin City Limits concert TV program as well as the annual music festival inspired by it that attracts big-name artists like Tame Impala, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam each year.

Austin has a thriving arts and music scene and is also home to the renowned South By Southwest (SXSW) film and music festival. This is a great city to move to if you love a spontaneous home where there’s always something new to do or see.

Among the city’s most popular live music venues are Antone’s Nightclub, Parish, ACL Live and the Historic Scoot Inn.

Best for: New wave, punk, indie, folk, blues, country

Famous musicians: Janis Joplin, Gary Clark Jr., Spoon, Iron & Wine

Population: 978,908

Median monthly rent: $1,280

Median age: 33.3 years old

Seattle, Washington

Seattle Washington

Though it sits at the most expensive spot on our list in terms of affordability, Seattle, Washington is worth the cost (and still cheaper than LA). As the home of ’90s alternative grunge legends like Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, Seattle has a legendary reputation in the music world. This rainy city is still full of impressive new acts today and is a great place to move if you’re into the alt rock scene.

Seattle is full of unique smaller venues, particularly quirky cafes and bars. Neumos, The Showbox, Tractor Tavern and High Dive are a few places of note. Besides the indie scene and typical alt rock show spots, Seattle is also surprisingly a little lesser known for its jazz scene. Ray Charles and Quincy Jones were known to play in Seattle during their early careers.

Besides being in a beautiful location and filled with grunge music history, this Pacific Northwest city is also known for having citizens with significantly above-average income compared to the national average – which is always a plus.

Best for: Alternative rock and grunge

Famous musicians: Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden

Population: 753,675

Median monthly rent: $1,614

Median age: 35.3 years

The Bottom Line On The Best Cities For Music Lovers

While making a big move across the country is no longer required to make a name for yourself in the music industry, there are plenty of cities across the United States full of rich musical history and lively local musical cultures if you’re looking for a place to start getting out there. New York and Los Angeles aren’t the only music destinations from coast to coast – there are plenty of places to plant your roots and hone your craft among like-minded peers.

Whether you’re staying put or on the move, check out our guide to designing your home as a musician.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.