New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. The music scenes in these cities typically garner a huge amount of attention from bands and fans alike for good reason. If you’re a young, ambitious band, successfully growing a fanbase and becoming well known in any one of these cities could connect you to a world of possibilities within the music industry. But while building your presence in a large scene comes with its massive potential payoffs, playing shows in bigger cities comes attached to massive challenges, stiff competition, and some big missed opportunities you can only find in smaller scenes.
Where it can be downright impossible to get a big city’s music scene to care about a show your band is playing, you’ll have a much better chance of generating excitement in small cities because local communities in these places tend to be more condensed, passionate, and active. Human beings generally love music no matter where they live, but smaller cities have only a fraction of artists who come through town than larger cities do. So when a band plays, people take notice.
And this appreciation for music can be represented by everything from increased merch sales and higher turnouts to attention from local press and connections with small labels. Places like Boise, Idaho; Amarillo, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; and Auburn, Alabama might not seem like huge music towns, but you’d be foolish to skip them on tour if you’re a small touring band. In fact, depending on your band’s unique situation, it’s probably better to build your presence and reputation in cities like these before attempting to tackle bigger scenes.
And with the internet, word about good music typically spreads whether the source is from a farmhouse outside of Wichita or a loft apartment in Brooklyn.
The energy and momentum you can generate by making a name for yourself in small music scenes will eventually make its way to the larger, more influential ones. Love it or hate it, enthusiasm for music is now largely measured in clicks, likes, and plays, and the love that small scenes show you can help in that regard. And with the internet, word about good music typically spreads whether the source is from a farmhouse outside of Wichita or a loft apartment in Brooklyn.
But maybe one of the best parts of playing small cities is that fans and the other bands you’ll play with are typically more open and welcoming than people in big, oversaturated scenes. If your band is friendly and open, you’ll most likely make great friends at the shows you play in smaller cities. And the connections you form now across the country will be a huge advantage throughout the years if your band is in it for the long haul.
Small towns across the country may not have the same benefits for musicians that larger cities do, but between LA and New York lies a ton of great cities, and winning over the fans in those locations could mean huge things for your band. And hey, you’ll always have a place to park your tour van, so there’s that.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.