What is a Music City? Tips for the Best Music Travel Experience

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The term ‘Music City’ once meant Nashville, Tennessee. Now, it's so much more than the cradle of country music.  'Music City' is a new worldwide movement of destinations with vibrant – and dedicated - music scenes. 

Dozens of cities globally are getting serious about and collaborating to ensure their music scenes thrive for their residents and visitors using Music City guidelines; and a roadmap has been published to guide local leaders and artists in pursuit of a Music City.

Our friend Amy Terrill, Executive Vice-President of Music Canada, shares her tips to discovering Music Cities when you travel.

The Sydney Opera House, Australia. Photo Credit

If you're a music lover, you know you can find music almost anywhere you go.

Music festivals draw visitors who travel thousands of miles to attend; cruises are themed around music; wineries incorporate it; cities build identities around music.  Who doesn't think of the Beatles when you think of Liverpool? The Fab Four is one of the top reasons people say they visit the city, and in 2013, travelers spent £3.64bn there.  Spizget festival in Budapest, Hungary, attracts almost half a million fans from more than 100 countries.  A Florida company charters cruise lines for music-themed experiences like The Groove Cruise and Shiprocked.

Maybe you travel to marquee events based on artist lineups and unique experiences, to experience iconic spaces like Graceland in Memphis, the Red Rocks natural stone amphitheatre in Colorado, the symbol of the Sydney skyline, the Sydney Opera House, or to make sure you don't miss major events on an artist’s tour schedule.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado. Credit

But Music Cities allow you to immerse yourself in experiences anytime you visit, 365 days a year.  Great Music Cities have: 

  • A critical mass of active artists and musicians;
  • a strong music ecosystem of all the professionals and businesses who support artists in their careers;
  • spaces and places needed for creation, rehearsal, education and performance;
  • a great live music scene with a variety of venues, ranging in sizes to accommodate artists at all stages of their careers;
  • and an appreciative core audience that shows up to live music events large and small.

The Hitsville U.S.A. Motown building, Detroit, MI. Motown's headquarters from 1959 to 1968. Photo Credit

In addition, some Music Cities are blessed with deep historical roots – and ideally if they’ve got remarkable music history, they protect it and promote it as an active music experience to locals and visiting music lovers. (Think of the Opera House in Vienna, original jazz venues in New Orleans, the east-coast music hub of George Street in St.John's, Newfoundland, or Motown's roots in Detroit.)

Are you traveling to one of the world’s Music Cities soon?  Here are some tips about how to experience the best the local music scene has to offer:

Jackson-Triggs Winery Amphitheatre, Niagara, ON

  1. Seek out unusual spaces where live music is performed, not just the advance ticketed events.Look at local wineries, micro-breweries, restaurants, museums, even bowling alleys. Local record stores can be a great way to learn about this type of under the radar gigs.
  2. See what local tastemakers are saying about live events in the city when you are there.Look at local media publications, blogs and portals.  Go where the locals go.  This can be a great way to discover an artist that you wouldn't find in an ordinary 'search' on your computer.
  3. Take the time to sample an artist's music online if you’re unsure of the genre. Listening to local artists as you explore a new city can add a soundtrack to your travel memories.
  4. Take risks – that’s how you’ll find a gem of a musician, band or music experience that you never otherwise would have discovered.
  5. Read up on the music history before you go and look for walking tours or historical society installations.Calgary's new Studio Bell, home of the  National Music Centre includes an unparalleled collection of working music artifacts and instruments, educational elements, and performance spaces as well.

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, Calgary.  (Photo used with permission from Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

Top image: Inside the Made in Canada stage. Photo: Leblond Studio Inc

Music Cities, small and large, obvious and hidden, dot the globe.  Chances are, the city you’re next visiting offers some unforgettable musical experiences.  Venture out of the ordinary and you will build more amazing memories with an experiential sound-track of your travels.