Chicago Music City

August, 2007

Chicago Music City, a first-of-its kind study conducted by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, compares the strength and vitality of music industries and scenes across the United States, and finds that Chicago is a leader by nearly each indicator measured.

As cities across the United States vie with each other to attract and retain business, sociologists, urban planners, and real estate developers point to quality of life and availability of cultural amenities as important indicators of the health and future success of urban areas. A number of these cities are turning to economic impact studies to show the importance of the music to the local economies. Chicago Music City compares Chicago’s musical strength with the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U. S., focusing especially on a group of eleven comparison cities: Chicago and its demographic peers, New York and Los Angeles, plus eight others with strong musical reputations – Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Las Vegas, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Seattle.

Initially intended to serve as a benchmark for measuring the future growth of the Chicago’s music community, Chicago Music City offers a new twist on the economic impact studies used by music industry and arts advocates across the country.

Major findings:

  • Los Angeles and New York have far and away the largest music industries. More than 57% of all musicians, music establishments and music industry employees in the study’s comparison cities are located in these two cities. These two cities also account for more than 67% of the revenue generated by the music industry in the comparison cities.
  • On a per capita basis, Nashville stands out for its strength in music-related employment. For every thousand workers in Nashville, more than 5.6 are employed by the music industry, compared to 1.6 in LA and New York.
  • But music generates more revenue in Chicago than in Nashville. If Boston’s supporting network of ‘peripheral’ music subindustries – like music promotion and instruction -- is included, its musical economic engine is larger than that of the country music capital, as well.
  • Although more tickets are sold for concerts in New York and Los Angeles than anywhere else, Boston comes in third, outselling Chicago and Las Vegas. The importance of tourism to Las Vegas makes it the hands-down leader of live music ticket sales on a per capita basis.
  • Las Vegas has more seats in clubs and small venues than any other city in America, with over 63,000. New York and Los Angeles are nearly tied at about 47,000.
  • Chicago and Atlanta are playgrounds for people with specialized musical tastes. To a much greater degree than anywhere else in the U. S., the small clubs in these two cities are devoted to specific genres of music.

Download the executive summary

Press coverage

Chicago Discusses Chicago Music City:

Chicago: The New Mu$ic Capitol?
On January 24, 2008, the Chicago Music Commission hosted a panel discussion of area experts to discuss economic opportunities generated by the city’s music industry. Chicago Music City researchers Lawrence Rothfield, Sarah Lee and Dan Silver launched the discussion with a summary of the study findings. Led by the Commission’s Dan Lurie, city officials and music industry leaders addressed points of contention and future opportunities to collaborate.

Listen to the panel discussion

Chicago Music City Echos in Policy Debates:

Download the Report