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7 Tips for Musicians Moving to a Big City

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As a long-time resident of New York City (14 years) and a current resident of Los Angeles (about 5 years), I’ve seen many musicians struggle when moving to a big city. Breaking into a new scene can be very difficult, intimidating and draining, which is why I’ve come up with 7 tips to help ease your transition. So, before you pack up the Uhaul, make sure you know what you're getting into, because a big city can be a lonely place if you are unprepared.

1) Prepare to Get Vibed – In every big city, there will be several tight-knit musical “scenes” and being an outsider can be tough. While some musicians will be welcoming and friendly, others may be territorial since you’re not yet “part of the club”. This could lead to you getting “vibed” from other resident musicians and it’s important to have thick skin in these situations. If you are not able to deal with this common adversity, you’re going to have a very hard time breaking into the scene. So, what do you do? Think of it like you’re a baseball player who just got drilled by a fastball from the opposing pitcher. You can either cry and go back to the dugout or you can try to hit a home run during your next at bat (or at least hit a strong line drive right at the pitcher’s head). That’ll show em’.

2) Don’t Expect Overnight Success – One of the worst things a musician can do when moving to a big city is to have unrealistic expectations. The likelihood of anyone landing a major gig during their 1st month in NYC or LA is about .01%. You have to plan for the long term and continue to chip away every day/night until you are where you want to be. If you ask any number of successful musicians from NYC, LA or Nashville you’ll find that it took many of them years to really hit their stride in the scene. So, set short term goals, work hard and start chipping away!

3) Stock Up on Savings – It’s a good idea to have some money saved up before making a move to a big city, because it could take a while for you to get paying gigs. Also, you’ll need to spend money on networking (attending events, shows, business lunches, etc.).  If you’re not able to afford networking, you might as well not even be in a big city. Essentially, you must “hang” in order to get work…see #4 below.

4) Networking – Networking is a super important part of your music career especially if you’ve just moved to a big city. This includes going out constantly, making friends, supporting other artists and more. For more info on this, check out last week’s blog, “7 Tips for Networking in the Music Industry”.

5) Find a Niche – The bigger the city, the more you'll need to specialize in order to get work. I’m not saying that it’s bad to be able to play multiple styles, because I’m guilty of that myself, but you must find your strengths and then target that particular scene. Since there are so many talented musicians flooding big cities, being proficient at everything won’t do you much good. You have to be great at a handful of things in order for people to remember your name.

6) Look the Part – I hate to say it, but you need to look like you belong too. For instance, if you’re trying to get into the LA rock scene, but you always wear white running shoes, tropical shorts and a Pat Metheny concert t-shirt, people may have trouble seeing you as a rocker no matter how well you play. I mean, this isn’t my favorite part of the music business for obvious reasons, but as a full-time musician for 20 years, I’ve come to peace with it. You’ve gotta look the part!

7) Location, Location, Location – Make sure to do thorough area research before blindly moving to a big city. Are there any musician filled neighborhoods? Are you centrally located to the important spots? If there’s public transportation, where are the stops and what is the schedule? These are just a few questions of many that you should be asking and as a resident of both NYC and LA, I can tell you that location can be vital to your quality of life as well as your developing music career. I mean, Manhattan is only 13.4 miles long (22.7 square miles total), but it contains many neighborhoods which differ greatly. Also, you have Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and NJ right next door but each offers its own pros and cons depending on your situation. And some of these areas, although not too far on a map, can feel a million miles away from the action when trying to break into the NYC scene. Anyway, I could go on forever about NY, but it’s just making me feel nostalgic. The pizza and bagels in LA are just not the same…sigh.

If you want some more tips about moving to a big city, I recommend checking out the masterclass videos of either Asaf Rodeh or Ruby BC.  Both videos offer different perspectives about moving to Los Angeles and they contain a lot of really useful information.

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