The Pros and Cons of Denver's Flourishing Music Scene

August 16, 2018

Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in Denver knows that the music scene here is hoppin.’ And it would seem that word is getting out: Denver Arts & Venues’ 2018 Denver Music Strategy study, a comprehensive survey of the Denver music scene, details in a casual 39 pages just how extensive it really is. For example, in 2016, the music industry in Denver brought in $842 million in revenue across live events, musicians, managers, agents, etc. We don’t know how that compares to markets like LA and New York, but it sounds pretty impressive. Plus, the survey also points out that with 24% of the Colorado population being a “millennial,” and another 1.4 million being in the coveted “Generation Z,” our collective taste for the most lucrative generation of music doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. So, with this recently released survey in mind, let’s explore some of the pros and cons of pursing the music industry in Denver.

Pro: Research

A key message reiterated throughout the survey: Denver’s live music scene is ripe. You probably already know that, but in the context of “the industry,” this is an important point to make. Not only are the economic effects pretty dramatic ($328,109,703 in revenue, to be exact), but it helps provide lots of opportunities to expand the fringes of music innovation within the creator class. Any musician will tell you that taking in plenty of live shows is a huge contribution to their craft—both in terms of scene awareness, and in terms of learning how and why other musicians do what they do. Sure you can watch videos and tutorials from the proverbial pit of your bedroom, but seeing how a pedal board is constructed to create a particular tone is a uniquely live experience much of the time—and it would seem that this component of the Denver scene is only going to continue to grow based on this survey.

Con: Rent

This is peripheral to the music scene, but a crucial consideration for both the artists here, and those wishing to come here. According to The Denver Post, apartment rental costs in metro Denver rose 46.9% from 2010 to 2017—the highest increase outside of California. It goes without saying that this is a major bummer for those in the music industry who ultimately need an affordable place to bunker down and focus on their work. It’s not that Denver is completely void of affordable living options, but one of the best aspects of the Colorado music scene is that it may actually be more advantageous to rent outside of the city. After all, how many countless artists have sought inspiration from the “purple mountain majesties” right in Denver’s backyard?  

Pro: The Scene

While Colorado’s music scene is diverse, its strengths really lie in two particular music genres: dance and metal. In terms of tickets sold at Red Rocks last year, dance led the way with 222,238, and rock/metal coming in third (but actually coming in first on total revenue). Snuggled between the two is folk/acoustic, though we think that dance and metal are more notable in terms of the bigger Denver/Colorado narrative since they’re ultimately a bit fringe in other places. Plus, anecdotally speaking, these two are comprised of smaller subgenres scenes that are a huge part of the local music landscape. In terms of dance music, Colorado is in many ways the epicenter of the “Pretty Lights” universe. Though from Fort Collins originally, Pretty Lights has almost single-handedly created a scene predicated on the best that Colorado has to offer in terms of nature, “green” culture, and slightly left-of-center EDM. On the metal side, interestingly enough, it happens to be Fort Collins that’s also at the epicenter of American black and blackened death metal by way of highly influential underground record label, Dark Descent Records. It may seem granular, but this super specialized scene is a true drawing point for musicians, and in terms of extremely evil sounding metal, Colorado is, well, IT. (*Shrug.*)

Con: The Scene

The pro here, is, incidentally, also a con. While EDM-esque electronic hip hop (i.e. Pretty Lights), and blackened death metal are major scenic draws for people looking to settle down and work on music projects, these are still isolated sub-genres in the massive galaxy of music gentrification. This is ultimately what draws people more than anything else to cities for musical reasons—the scenes that sub-genres create. You want to make pop country? Go to Nashville. Techno? Maybe Berlin or Detroit. Hip-hop? Atlanta. Scenes are hard to describe, and particularly hard to articulate in economic surveys, but they are big indications of what kind of people are going to flock someplace to contribute to the musical identity of a city. This is part of the appeal of places like LA and New York, where size alone means that no matter how niche, there will inevitably be a scene for you. So, if you’re extremely into ‘90s K-pop exclusively used in DDR arcade games, Denver might not have the sub-genre scene for you (though, if you’re trying to start that label, we fully support you).

Pro: Feeding Yourself with Music Money

If you’re looking at the survey, this is probably the most encouraging point of all: there’s money to be made if you want to work in music. From 2011 to 2016, the music industry was the third largest growing employment sector behind beverage production (we get it, we do love beer) and IT and software. This doesn’t necessarily translate to musicians in a direct way, but it suggests that there’s a growing ecosystem where musicians can thrive in both direct and indirect ways. Working at a label may very well benefit you as an artist. Helping backstage at Red Rocks may very well benefit you as an artist. It may seem hackneyed, but the music industry is still largely predicated on “who you know” (much like any industry nowadays), and the more opportunities there are for people broadly in the industry, the more opportunities there will be to get to know more people and establish inroads.

Well, gotta run—catch us at the blackened death metal show tonight.