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Atlanta Emerging as Thriving Music Industry Center

One of Georgia’s best kept secrets is its thriving music industry. The city of Atlanta is known as the “center of gravity” for hip-hop music and the state has produced a flood of recent country music chart-toppers. The area also boasts a variety of recording and production facilities, a wide range of performance venues and numerous opportunities to study music.

Georgia has a long history of musical innovation, dating back more than 100 years. But since the late 1980s, Atlanta has taken center stage as a focal point of urban music. That growth has spawned an eclectic blend of music genres that present opportunities for young people to enter the industry in Georgia.

Atlanta’s thriving music industry is widely acknowledged as one of the global capitals of hip-hop music (particularly crunk), rhythm and blues (R&B), neo-soul and gospel music. The city also features a vibrant independent rock scene and a number of live music venues. Classical music, blues, country, pop and other genres also have a strong foothold in the recording studios and concert settings across Atlanta.

The city was termed “hip-hop’s center of gravity” by the New York Times.  Local artists with international success include Ludacris, T.I., Usher, Tony Braxton, Outkast, Lil Jon, Kris Kross, Cee Lo Green, Monica, Ciara and Young Jeezy.

300-Plus Recording Studios

There are more than 300 recording studios in Georgia, with most based in Atlanta. Producers L.A. Reid and Babyface set up LaFace Records in 1989 in Atlanta. Jermaine Dupri soon followed with his own label, founding So So Def Recordings in 1993.  Those two recording companies – which signed artists ranging from TLC to Da Brat – ensured Atlanta’s place in the recording music business. That success led major labels such as Arista Records to set up offices in the city.  Pop sensation Justin Bieber lives in Atlanta; moving here to work with Usher and signing with RBMG.

While urban music gets much of the attention in Atlanta, the city is active in plenty of other genres.  Classical music has been a strong factor here for decades, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra winning several Grammys in recent years. The city has a number of blues and jazz nightclubs, with top acts attending the annual Atlanta Jazz Festival. The Atlanta area is also home to a number of major country music headlines, including the Zac Brown Band, Kenny Rogers, Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean and Sugarland.

The Atlanta live music scene has been critical to the emergence of local pop, rock and folk acts like Indigo Girls, The Black Crowes and Shawn Mullins.  Eddie’s Attic, a club in the Decatur suburb, played a critical role in helping launch Mullins, John Mayer, India Arie, Sugarland, and many others. Other top venues for up-and-coming artists and well-known groups seeking a more intimate venue include the Variety Playhouse, the Masquerade, the Tabernacle, Lenny’s Bar, Apache Café, the Earl, Wild Bill’s and the Hard Rock Cafe.

The amphitheater at Chastain Park is the city’s best and most popular outdoor music venue. While it holds less than 7,000 people, Chastain Park in central Atlanta regularly hosts artists such as Bob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Stevie Nicks, Steely Dan and the Temptations.  The historic Fox Theater downtown welcomes music acts as well as theatrical plays and musicals. Major stadium-sized tours come to Phillips Arena, Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood and the Verizon Amphitheater in Alpharetta.

Music Industry Educational Programs

While those musical venues and recording studios offer plenty of opportunities to build a career, the Atlanta area is also a great place to get your initial training and education. There are more than 50 Georgia institutions offering post-secondary programs in the music business, including performance, production, composing and conducting. Programs that offer concentrations in the music industry and its technology include the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, and the Music Business Program at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia in Athens. Other programs in Atlanta range from a bachelor’s degree in music management to master’s and doctorate degrees in music technology at Georgia Tech.

Georgia’s musical training, legacy and growth are not confined to Atlanta. One and a half hours northeast of Atlanta is Athens, the “Liverpool of the south.” The “birthplace of New Wave music” spawned such bands as R.E.M., Widespread Panic, the B-52s and the Drive-By Truckers. Today the city boasts a thriving live music scene that provides a home for a wide variety of indie bands, Americana groups and “hick hop” -- a unique blend of rap and country music personified by Athen’s Colt Ford.

One and a half hours south of Atlanta is Macon, where the Allman Brothers Band and Capricorn Records made the city the focal point of the Southern rock movement. Macon was also the home of R&B legends Otis Redding and Little Richard. Savannah, on Georgia’s Atlantic Coast, was the birthplace of “Tin Pan Alley” songwriter Johnny Mercer, co-founder of Capitol Records. James Brown hailed from Augusta, while Ray Charles was born in Albany.

With so many successful musicians arising from Georgia and Atlanta, the region now provides a deep infrastructure of facilities, artists and educators who are constantly working to introduce the next set of musical talents to the world.

Questions or comments? Please email Michael Fenton at mfenton@atlantapacificgroup.com

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