There are countless examples in film, TV and music of young, ambitious people moving to dense urban areas like New York or Hollywood and becoming big pop stars or famous actors. Patti Smith’s incredible story of meeting artist Robert Mapplethorpe and becoming a music icon in 1970’s New York portrayed in her incredible memoir Just Kids features this idea, albeit with more nuance, meaning and creativity than most stories.
If you’re a band stuck somewhere like the midwest, it might seem like moving to a place like Brooklyn, home of seemingly countless amounts of bands who’ve either “made it” or are in the process of “making it,” is the only way to achieve notoriety, but you’re probably wrong.
By far, the largest and most obvious challenge of picking up and moving to a place like Brooklyn is the ungodly amount of money you’ll need to generate every month to simply have a place to sleep and store your stuff. Let’s check some numbers. If your band hails from a place like, let’s say Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you’ll pay around $700 a month for a 1-bedroom apartment. Being a serious band in the middle of Iowa has its challenges, but the cost of living is not one of them. For the same apartment in Brooklyn, you’ll be paying about $2,600 a month on average.
In Cedar Rapids, you and your bandmates could all have part time jobs, play music six nights a week and have money to spare for things like putting out albums and touring. Unless you or one of your bandmates has a ton of money, you’ll all need to work long hours at multiple jobs to simply be able to live and breathe in a place like Brooklyn. All that non-music related work doesn’t leave too much time for music. Sure, you can tell everyone on Facebook that you live in Brooklyn, but your band probably won’t have time to do things like write songs and play shows.
In music scenes like Brooklyn, Austin and L.A., young bands trying to make a name for themselves are a dime a dozen, even with the insane challenges of being based in a dense urban area. Rather than moving to one of these scenes, your band might be better off putting your energy towards touring as much as possible. The segments of the music industry who might actually have the power to do something meaningful for your band take notice of bands who are consistently on the road perfecting their craft, not bands who move to big cities, burn out and stop playing music.
If you look at your band like a business, what you’re producing is songs, live performances and records. You should make strategic choices as a group that allows you to make music as possible. Maybe your band has outgrown your hometown and needs to do something else to accommodate its growth and ambitions. That’s completely understandable, but putting yourself in an all-or-nothing situation like picking up and moving to a big expensive place is a risky option that has the potential to sink your project.
Staying home and touring more is way less sexy than a dramatic move to Brooklyn, but it’s probably smarter. This way you’ll be able to maintain the momentum and relationships you’ve formed at home while introducing your music to new people across the country. And even if you come from a small city like our example of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, your hometown provides tons of resources and support that you’re always going to need as a band.
Another option is to move to a location based near where you want to be musically active that doesn’t come with a $2,600 monthly price tag for rent. If you love what’s happening in the Brooklyn music scene, maybe moving to a cheaper suburb close by is the better choice. Sure, New Brunswick, New Jersey isn’t as ‘cool’ as Brooklyn, but average rent is about $1k cheaper there and it’s located a quick drive or train ride away. If your band is in it for the long haul, you’ll have to make smart compromises for the sake of your goals.
Decide What “Making It” Means
For some bands, success is purely measured in dollar amounts, play counts and views. For others, the very act of writing music and sharing it with people is more than enough of an incentive to keep going. But no matter what your goals are with music, it’s important to sit down with your bandmates and have a discussion about what it is you’re hoping to get out of making music with each other.
Getting on the same page about your goals might inspire your band to make some drastic changes like quitting your jobs and moving across the country or a boring one like scheduling one more practice every week. But if your goals involve writing tons of music and playing it for fans night after night, picking up and moving to Brooklyn probably isn’t the best way to go about doing it.