Money from Music: Where We Live

Posted on September 11th, 2013 by Jean Cook in What We're Learning. 1 Comment

Who doesn’t need to live in a music industry city?

While proximity to opportunities, a greater possibility of full-time work as a musician, and industry concentration make living in places like Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York attractive to many musicians, there are other factors that also influence where musicians choose to live. We heard from artists for whom location was not so important. Some of the reasons they gave were:

(a) they already had a track record;
(b) their role as a touring artist tied them less to a specific location; and
(c) the internet facilitated the communication and interaction they needed to sustain their careers.

A. Artists with a track record
As I become more established, it matters less that I live in New York.
– Emerging Classical Composer

Some interviewees noted that living in a music city is important for musicians who are working to establish their careers. However, some of those who had built a track record or who were already known quantities in their fields had developed strong enough networks to sustain their musical careers, regardless of where they were based. As a result some chose to live somewhere else, drop out of the scene for stretches at a time, or skip industry events.

Normally people think L.A. and New York are the places to be to be in the music industry. You have to be where all of the executives are. I’m the old school class now, so we don’t have to be in the thick of things to get a deal because our past speaks for itself. I can live [outside of L.A. and New York] and we can still get it done. But that’s from our track record.
– Urban Singer Songwriter

As you get older and more established, your physical location doesn’t matter so much. I could stay home for six months and not come to New York, not go anywhere, and just compose in my isolated, rural environment while staying active online. And I know that I’d continue to get commissions, because at this point I’ve developed a wonderful database of people who perform and record my music. It’s all about the relationships we create with our colleagues.
– Classical Composer

Of course, each musician’s definition of ‘known’ will vary based on role, genre, career trajectory, the industry, or the city itself. In the case of Los Angeles and film music composition, for example, one interviewee suggested he needed 20 years of steady work before he could move somewhere else.

I’ve had almost a 10-year run. I feel I have got the stamina to work as hard for another fifteen years. Then I don’t think it will matter as much [where I live]. Especially after you’ve done 100 or so films…
– Film Composer

B. Touring artists
If I just wanted to be a performer I don’t think it matters, I don’t think you have to go to a music town at all.
– Singer Songwriter

Some interviewees’ comments made it clear that there’s a difference between those artists whose primary focus was to develop relationships with studios, publishers, other performers, and contractors (‘behind the scenes’ artists, as one interviewee called them), and those who primarily seek to build an audience of fans for their music. While there are certainly musicians who try and do both, it’s clear that session musicians and composers can have very different priorities from touring artists, and location plays a part in their calculation.

We heard from a few interviewees that touring artists are not tied to music cities the same way that other kinds of artists are.

If you’re going to be a behind-the-scenes song slinger, write with artists and be behind the scenes and make a career out of recorded music compositions, yeah, I think you have to be in one of the music centers. I’m not so sure that you would have to be if you were actually a touring artist that had a band and was maybe in the alternative world or something like that. [Then], I think you could live in Boston or wherever.
– Nashville Songwriter B

…in terms of touring [where I live is] more about being close to an airport. Since my income is so much based on digital music sales and licensing from people from all over, I’d say that no, it doesn’t matter [where I live].
– Independent Classical Composer-Performer

A major touring rock band member has similar thoughts.

I live in Oklahoma…me and our drummer live here and the other two guys live in L.A. and New York. So we’re kind of all over the place and it still works out fine.

C. Those who benefit from the internet

For many interviewees, the internet has had a hand in making geographic location less important. Some of this is as simple as acknowledging the general efficiencies in communication, social networks, and search. In other cases artists talked about the disintermediation effect, and how it is now possible to cultivate a less location-centric fan base online.

I think you can make something of yourself no matter where you’re at. And with access to the internet and fan bases everywhere, that’s more important than where you live.
– Emerging Classical Composer

Other artists referred to the world getting smaller, a shift to a more global social orientation – one that was less concerned with physical place.

…the Internet made geographic locations so unimportant. It made it possible for us to find each other and then for a worldwide audience to find us… We moved [to New York] because we thought, ‘This is where hip hop comes from and we want to make hip hop.’ But by 2002 it wasn’t where hip hop comes from anymore. ‘Nowhere’ is where hip hop comes from now.
– Indie Hip Hop Musician

Because of the Internet I don’t feel like it matters that I live in a state that’s not really known for creating musical geniuses. I don’t want to believe that I have to live in a big city to make it big. But some days I’m like, ‘I want to move to L.A. and hang out with movie stars and maybe one of them will put me on the soundtrack of their next movie.’ I think there are opportunities that I will never cross paths with here in Colorado, but I also think that it’s not going to hold me back in a way.
– Singer Songwriter

Other artists referenced the reduction in costs of just doing business. A film and TV composer who does not live in Los Angeles said:

[the filmmaker is] in L.A. and I’m in Germantown so he sends me a QuickTime version of the film… He calls me and says, ‘Hey, we’re working on the opening and we need some funeral dirge music, could you write something?’ and I’m like, ‘Sure.’ 15 minutes later he has it in L.A. and he’s sitting there watching it and he says, ‘This is perfect, we’re going to use it, this is great.’ [Because of] technology, I can be here, he’s there, we can work on a project together. And it’s a real movie.
– Composer for TV and Film

Most of the comments about technology’s impact on geographic location came from artists who were in a position to develop and promote their own ‘brand’ to audiences outside of music cities – singer-songwriters, performers of original music, non-industry-focused composers – and were often touring artists. This reinforces the earlier point that touring artists have different needs and priorities than session musicians and some industry-focused composers.

Next: Outside the music industry cities

One response to “Money from Music: Where We Live”

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