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The characteristics that make this city so great for musicians — it’s huge, multifarious, and full of opportunity– can also make it a tad overwhelming. That’s why we compiled this advice for musicians new to Chicago.
The recommendations come straight from our amazing teachers, many of whom started out as Chicago newbies themselves, and range in genre, including classical and opera.
We hope this advice helps guide you through a (Chicago) river of venues, jam sessions, and networking opportunities! With a little effort and open-mindedness, it won’t take long before you start to find your groove.
1. Go to jam sessions and/or open mics!
This is, hands-down, one the best ways to get seen, build up a reputation, and meet other musicians in the city.
Some musicians dislike jam sessions because of the unpredictable nature of who or what shows up. “But what they provide is a space to network, to hear a lot of different people, and to gauge where you are in the scene,” said former Piano Power teacher Andrew Lawrence.
ClassicalLiederstube Song Salon hosted by Eugenia Cheng
OperaOpera on Tap
2. Be deliberate about meeting other musicians.
Besides the aforementioned jam sessions/open mics, here are some other ideas for meeting your fellow musicians.
3. Get to know the (endless!) venues. Favorites include:
Constellation – jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical.
Elastic Arts — creative, independent, and local music concerts, exhibitions, and multi-arts performances
Slate Arts – New Media arts and music
Martyr’s – various genres
Wire (Berwyn) – various genres
Uncommon Ground (two locations) – various genres; acoustic & intimate
Mayne Stage – various genres
House of Blues (smaller stage) – rock and blues
Chop Shop / 1st Ward – various genres
Schuba’s and Lincoln Hall – various genres
Empty Bottle – “music friendly dancing”
Subterranean – various genres
The Whistler – various genres
aliveOne– various genres
California Clipper – various genres
Thalia Hall – various genres
The Riviera – various genres
The Metro – various genres
The Green Mill – jazz (traditional, bebop, contemporary, improvisational)
The Hideout – various genres
Tonic Room – various genres
Chicago Symphony Center – classical, opera, chamber, choral, jazz
Pritzker Pavilion – various genres
Ravinia Festival – various genres
Lyric Opera – opera
Harris Theater for Music and Dance – classical, choral, world, jazz
Winter’s Jazz Club – jazz
4. See and support local music and bands!
Chicago is bursting at the seams with incredible artists of all genres. Here are some of our teacher’s favorite local acts, divided by genre:
Gypsy-jazz alt-folkLe Percolateur
Choral / Chamber / Vocal Ensemble
Pop / Experimental
5. Don’t forget the suburbs, and the rest of Illinois!
Consider playing the suburbs — Two Brothers in Aurora and Durty Nellie’s in Palatine — are popular spots. College towns provide good opportunities to build an audience and network. In Illinois consider Dekalb, Urbana, and Carbondale, and Davenport and Bloomington in Indiana.
6. The most important thing you can do is work on your music.
When you start to sound better at sessions and gigs week after week, people begin to notice. When you hole up and work on growing internally, you’ll start to grow externally, too.
7. But…your reputation might be even more important than your music.
“You can network all you want, but if you’re not polished enough in your professionalism, that’s an issue,” said Lawrence. “If people know you as someone who will run music ahead of time, come with gear, is on time and easy to hang with— and you have the skills— then people are going to want to call you.”
It takes time to build a community. Be patient, take your time, and keep putting yourself out there.
Chicago is huge, but it’s more livable than New York and Los Angeles. And, as Lawrence put it, “You don’t have to pay $1000 to live in a box.”