Best cities for a freelance musician

September 4, 2016 at 06:01 PM · This post is purely out of curiosity (I don't intend on moving to the first city mentioned!) but as I was thinking about the future and the possibility of trying to make it as a freelance violinist, I was thinking - where is the best place to be? Is it just where you went to school/conservatory so you have connections/experience? It should probably have freeway phils within reasonable driving distance, plenty of gig opportunities, people to teach, etc. What does everyone think? This is of course assuming you don't land a pro orchestra position and just move to wherever that orchestra is.

Replies (11)

September 4, 2016 at 06:23 PM · I think it depends on the talent of the musician. For example, cities like Chicago and New York present innumerable opportunities to succeed as a musician, but there are so many musicians there that you have to be incredibly talented to survive among the crowd.

September 4, 2016 at 08:18 PM · The question is, do you intend to make most of your income from performing, or from teaching?

September 4, 2016 at 10:21 PM · The best city is the one where you already have connections. It's really hard to start from scratch unless you're moving there to take an orchestra job. If you think most of your money is going to come from teaching, then make sure the public schools have a strong strings program. If performance, then proximity to freeway philharmonics and a large enough city to support a lot of weddings.

September 4, 2016 at 10:58 PM · A place with a low cost of living is also very advisable. While there are greater opportunities for gigs in very large cities, the cost of living is usually prohibitive for a freelancer. You have to find the sweet spot of a big enough city that there are ample opportunities to play and teach, but not so big that the cost of living is outrageous.

September 4, 2016 at 11:02 PM · The best place to be is probably the city where your spouse has just landed a very high-paying job. :-)

September 5, 2016 at 12:22 AM · Lydia nailed it.

September 5, 2016 at 01:47 PM · What do people feel about the cultural differences between countries effecting a freelance musician?

I traveled all over Europe and had lived in a couple cities in my 20s. I've also visited Japan and Australia. I was amazed at the number of musicians busking in Europe throughout my travels. (Also the juggler/circus culture there). While living in Mannhatten post college, for 5 years I don't recall ever seeing people on the streets playing except for a handful of key locations and subway stops. Its been 20 years since my traveling days, so perhaps my memory has skewed things, but it just seems like Europe is more musical then the states.

I wonder if having a more musically in touch culture allows for a broader range of freelance possibilities.

September 5, 2016 at 02:02 PM · I was lucky here in Manchester, UK. No problem getting full-time jobs or freelance work. But has that anything to do with either my abilities then or opportunities now ?? Mybe I was thought of as being a "good player".

A lot depends on the calibre & the cv of the applicant, and the local circumstances

September 6, 2016 at 01:11 AM · American cities might have more public-nuisance laws that discourage busking musicians. Also, pedestrian traffic patterns have a major impact on how successful a busker is likely to be. American cities tend to be car cities.

Europe has more state-sponsored classical music and a broader range of opportunities for classical performers, I believe. It's one of the reasons why many soloists seem to have predominantly European-based careers.

September 6, 2016 at 03:25 PM · I'm not sure why busking is really relevant. Few classical musicians I know rely on it for their living.

In my experience, probably the best places for a freelancer are the larger Midwestern cities with a large number of orchestras within driving distance, low housing costs, school systems with music programs, and a culture where people are still getting married and value classical musicians for the ceremony. This tends to eliminate coastal cities, where costs are so high and the competition so numerous.

Years ago I moved to Cleveland (I had neither spouse nor connections, but was prepared to audition). The area has a large number of good orchestras, including Akron and Canton, and lots of smaller gig orchestras. Within driving distance are Erie, Wheeling, and some others. Cleveland has low-cost of living and big classical music audience, and if needed, many fine teachers and coaches to listen to audition materials. Places like Columbus and Pittsburgh are within driving distance if need be. I now live in a small western mountain town, which lacks the number of music opportunities, but it has other attractions for me.

While I don't necessarily recommend everyone moving to Cleveland, this is the type of place that people should be looking at. The are places I like more, such as Portland or Seattle, but they have fewer freelance opportunities. Much of this depends on how competitive you are--some people can move to NY or other big cities and do well, but it also depends on what kind of lifestyle you envision. Personally, I would no longer wish to live in a large urban area and live in a apartment, regardless of the music scene.

September 6, 2016 at 04:19 PM · People fly to jobs, as well as drive to them, these days. I'm not sure how that's economical, but apparently it can be.

I know someone who lives in the Midwest but plays in a freeway phil in the West -- only a handful of concerts a season, with multiple rehearsals in the week going up to multi-performance weekend, so it's doable. (For the uninitiated: This matters because of the number of services crammed into that week.)

I recently chatted with a player in a violin-shop, who plays in a full-time opera orchestra in the central US, and did other freelance gigs in that same city, but moved to the East Coast a decade ago because his partner got a job there. He still commutes (flying) for the opera and his gigs -- he says he's never really invested the time to get connected properly into the freelancing community in his new city.

That guy said something interesting, though -- he asked, "What does it even mean to be a professional any more?" He has a day job, when he's not off playing, and doesn't consider his music to pay a living wage. (He apparently does all right financially, or at least his partner does, since he was shopping for a very expensive bow, though.)

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