Does "Making It" Still Require Big Cities?
The question came up recently: Do you need to be in a big city to have a successful music career anymore? If music can be made anywhere, by anyone, then does it matter where you make your music? New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, New Orleans, Nashville, Austin; these are all musical cities. These are the musical epicenters, where bands and musicians flock to try and break into the music industry, to be noticed. But how important is it to be based in one of these cities for music to be discovered and thrive? Is it important to be in one of these places for a successful music career? Do these hubs matter anymore?
If you want to be a successful artist do you need to be where the action is? What is the definition of success? Aren’t the rules basically still the same? You make music, you get people to listen to it, then you get them to buy it, whether as music or in the live context. It doesn’t matter how you do that, the Dandy Warhol’s got a big break when their song “Bohemian Like You” was used in a cell phone ad. But if you can be successful then you are a star. And you can make bank. Sure the revenue streams from buying music may be different but the same rules still apply. It’s about the fans, do you have them or not?
So why do so many bands still feel the need to go to big cities to start their careers? I’d say there’s a feeling of urgency and acceptance of the paradigm that that’s how you become a professional musician. I mean, Nikki Sixx is from Jerome, Idaho, Jeff Ament is from Big Sandy, Montana, neither place known for its proactive music scene. Both of these bass players left their hometowns for bigger musical pastures. Can you imagine Motley Crue trying to make it big on the Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming touring circuit? No way! I mean, in big cities you get more opportunities, more places to play, a more diverse audience to hear your original music, and more opportunities to just bump into people who may impact your career. Or how about more of a chance to expand ideas for your music? I’m paying attention to a new singer/songwriter named Sammy Brue. He’s 16 years old and from Ogden, Utah. He’s had a real record deal with New West Records (Steve Earle, John Hiatt) since he was 14. 14! He still lives in Utah and tours from there regularly. How does he do it? While he isn’t a huge star, yet, he’s climbing the ladder and he’s making music his life… he’s actually making a living from it. But how accepting is the audience in your small town to original music? Do they let you play the songs you wrote or do they want to hear the hits of the 80’s? And what about DJ Marshmello? He has 600 million views on YouTube? Does he need to be based in a big city in today’s digital landscape? I bet somebody working the winter shift in Antarctica could make music, upload it to SoundCloud and become popular if they tried.
So I ask you again, what exactly is the music business? I consider the real music business to be an artist making a living by producing music. Whether it’s as a performer or a writer/producer. But the reality is “making it” in music is totally about what you want for your career. Do you want to tour opening for Bruno Mars or is playing weddings the living you want? Both are real careers in the music business with the potential to make serious cash. How about working on a cruise ship? You get to tour the world but probably don’t get to play your original songs. Just how do you get noticed by a label, booking agent, club promoter or even fans? How many fans does it take to make you a star? And does the web help you to get noticed? Can you make a good living from streaming?
Whatever you’re thoughts on the business side of music, the main reason you move to a big city is to be closer to the action of a music scene. This will give you more opportunities to be seen and have your music heard, more access to other musicians and music industry professionals, more chances for the right pieces to come together. Would there have been a Guns N’ Roses if Axl had remained William Bailey in Lafayette, Indiana? Probably not. Metropolitan areas are the big ponds, with thousands of bands coming to make their musical mark. They give you a chance to test your music on a bigger platform in front of more musical peers. To push yourself to be noticed. Ask yourself, would you get swallowed up, or crush the competition? Big fish eat small fish and it’s a pay to play world in these cities. What would make your band stand out?
Realistically it needs to be stated that the real music business on a real world scale is located in these big cities. There’s no office for the RCA Label group in Little Rock, Arkansas. Record labels are still the only way to gain real fans and followers (regardless of what happens in Hip/Hop). And the labels are likely to find you & your music in the cities they work in, they don’t travel to a bar in South Dakota hoping for the next Kendrick Lamar. In other words… If you want to be worldwide, you go to where the world is and that is in the big cities. No matter how good you are you’ll need some help building that adoring fan-base, you already know how hard it is to build an audience for your music all by yourself but then that’s the rub isn’t it? Look at what we’re doing with PCTV, building an audience one fan at a time (thanks for the support). Is your music good enough to do this? Is it even possible to do this? You have to ask yourself, why do you play music in the first place? Big city or small town, it’s the eternal question. The answer should be important, in fact it’s the only reason that matters… so why do you want to play music? Let us know musicians, what have you done to succeed in the music business?