Having access to a lot of live music is one of the joys of living in or visiting a city. While places like New York, Austin and Berlin are known for attracting a lot of younger musicians whose creativity and energy have made the local music scenes famous throughout the world, cities like London and Nashville are home to a myriad of studios that attract seasoned professionals whose virtuosity makes them an absolute joy to see live. Meanwhile, there are several cities that are home to very unique music scenes. Seville is known for its flamenco guitarists; Sao Paulo is known for its samba; Ibiza is world famous for its dance clubs; New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz; and Berlin has become the Mecca for a wide variety of electronic music, though there are a myriad of clubs to see punk rock, death metal and avant-garde acts that straddle the line between jazz and noise, too.
We have searched the world over for the best cities to visit if you’re looking to hear some great local bands, whether they’re trying something entirely new or just adding their own twist on a standard. Our criteria tried to focus on cities that offer a wide range of genres. For example, Seville is legendary for its flamenco, but that’s pretty much all you’re going to hear in that city. We also found that these cities impossible to rank, as their disparities do not make them better or worse than the other cities on the list, just different. We did think it necessary, however, to include six honorable mentions: Melbourne, Tokyo, Barcelona, Havana, Montreal and Los Angeles.
Austin is weird. This is perhaps the greatest compliment that one can pay to a city in the middle of Texas, as so many of them lack the idiosyncrasies that make places fun to visit. In addition to offering some of the nation’s best and most unique food, the music scene in Austin is equally original. While the city becomes inundated with bands, promoters and industry people during the South by Southwest festival, there are always acts coming into the city to play on the television show Austin City Limits or one of the major venues on East 6th Street in downtown Austin. And just because it’s Texas doesn’t mean all of the acts are country; the city has been home to some of the biggest indie bands over the course of the past twenty years—Spoon, White Denim, Explosions in the Sky and Okkervil River all call the city home.
Berlin is one of the most significant cultural hubs on the planet. Consequently, it attracts a lot of talent from all over the world—not just punk rockers and DJs, but classically trained musicians, as well. Furthermore, virtually any band who steps foot on continental Europe will make their way to Berlin. While the city is being gentrified at a rate far faster than other German cities, there are still a lot of venues in neighborhoods like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg. Neukölln, which was once considered far too gritty for all but the most adventurous bohemians, is now home to showcases where you can see a variety of genres, oftentimes on a single stage. Das Gift and Sowieso are perhaps the neighborhood’s most popular places.
London has been the center of British music for generations. Like New York or Berlin, the British capital is teeming with talented young musicians who are willing to take the midnight slot on a Monday in a neighborhood twenty miles away from their apartment so long as it gets them another fan. Younger acts from South London like King Krule and Juce are generating an entirely new sound, while bands like Novella remind us that there are still people out there who listen to the Breeders. For alternative music, Camden is one neighborhood that you absolutely can’t miss. If you’re a jazz fan, stopping in at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho is an absolute necessity.
There are 180 recording studios, 100 live music clubs and 80 record labels in the city of Nashville. As you walk through areas like the Gulch or Music Row, you realize quickly that you can’t take more than a few steps without either running into a musician or someone who works on the business side of the music industry. Venues like Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge, the Wildhorse Saloon and the Grand Ole Opry are not just staples of the city, but part of its very identity. No matter if you like bluegrass, country, gospel, jazz or rock, you will definitely find a band you can move to in Music City, especially if you go bar hopping along Broadway between 5th Avenue N and the river.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There are few cities that offer as much live music as New Orleans. While many cities that are based around gambling will have live acts playing even in the middle of the afternoon, New Orleans is unique because these acts are playing at bars without covers. If you feel like hearing a bar band at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, you’ll only have to walk a block or two down Bourbon Street to find one, though you may have to wait until nightfall to hear some good local R&B or hip hop. The city is also alive with jazz, and you will find street musicians who play everything from folk to zydeco. Some of the biggest attractions in New Orleans are its many festival, the most famous of which is Jazz Festival, which lasts for ten days and has attracted the likes of Duke Ellington, Eric Clapton and even the band Phish.
New York, New York
New York City has always been one of the premier cities in the world, especially when it comes to attracting artistic talent. While there are scores of venues for local musicians, such as Small’s (jazz), Shea Stadium (indie/punk) and the Bitter End (other), New York also brings in a ton of touring acts who play such notable spots as the Williamsburg Hall of Music, the Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge and the Beacon Theater, not to mention the city’s largest venues: Madison Square Garden and Barclay’s Center. The city is also home to two of the world’s best orchestras: the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
One of the contributing factors to a major music city is its ability to attract young and ambitious musicians. Paris has drawn some of the most creative and brilliant individuals from throughout the world for hundreds of years, and it is no different today. Known for its legacy of being home of composers like Satie, Debussy and Stravinsky, Paris continues to be a hub for composers, jazz artists, indie rockers, DJs and hip hop artists alike. Over the course of a night, you can hear bop-style jazz at a club like New Morning before checking out some more avant-garde acts, and then dancing until well after midnight. Like many Parisian venues, the dance floor gets packed once the hour switches back to single digits.