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It was the spring of 2021, and Cory Andersen wasn’t sure what he was still doing in Los Angeles. The pandemic had brought the city’s social scene to a standstill, and paying rent for his West Hollywood apartment didn’t make sense when his talent management company, Prysm, went fully remote.
So in March 2021, Andersen packed his things and moved 2,300 miles across the country to Miami. He wasn’t the only one.
When the pandemic untethered many music industry workers from their offices — and from the industry’s hubs of New York and L.A. — Miami and South Florida’s tri-county area (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach) became a major destination. Since the spring of 2020, music executives from across genres have relocated to Miami and the tri-county area, finding, they unilaterally attest, a better quality of life as fostered by Miami’s cheaper housing market, increased access to nature, nearly 12 months of summer, greater opportunities for artists given that much of Florida didn’t close during the pandemic, as well as an added arm’s length from the industry grind.
“In South Florida, I did find that the script flipped a bit,” says Andersen, who grew up in Connecticut and lived in L.A. for nine years. “It isn’t as cutthroat; more people want to see you succeed, grow with you and hold their hand out to help you up, rather than cut you down on their way to the top.”
Miami is, of course, a longtime Latin music stronghold. Sony Music, the first major label to have a Latin division, has roots in Miami dating to 1980, first as CBS Discos and then in 1991 — began to boom — as Sony Discos. Universal, BMG and Warner followed. Hip-hop and dance music also have long-standing presences in the city.
As Latin music has gone global, the city has become an even more crucial epicenter of the genre — a hub that provides easy access to L.A., Latin America and Europe — while simultaneously exploding as a destination for complementary sectors like tech and finance. But in these lingering days of the pandemic, Miami has also become a boomtown for the music industry at large. The phenomenon is similar to what Nashville experienced in the early ’90s after the massive success of Garth Brooks. And as in Nashville, for those who’ve relocated to Miami from big cities, this population influx has also brought familiar challenges — which show no signs of abating as new residents continue arriving en masse with sun hats in tow.
“We’ve got an expected growth rate of 12% over the next 10 years,” says Ken H. Johnson, a Palm Beach County-based real estate economist and professor at Florida Atlantic University. “That’s roughly an extra 700,000 people who will be living in the tri-county area 10 years from now. Never have we had this many people coming this fast.”
For native New Yorker Justin Kleinfeld, founder of electronic music PR agency Rephlektor, moving his family to Parkland, Fla., from Jericho on New York’s Long Island became an obvious choice during the pandemic, as Manhattanites fled to Long Island and Westchester County and surrounding property values rose. Working remotely even before the pandemic, Kleinfeld was rarely going into Manhattan, was over the stress of the city and says Florida offered “the combination of the weather, the lack of state income tax and having my kids be able to be outside all the time, when in New York with COVID-19 it was miserable, because we were usually stuck inside with shit weather.”
Visiting Parkland in September 2020, Kleinfeld and his wife made a down payment on a new build, then spent the next year living in a nearby townhouse while it was finished, with supply chain issues stalling the process.
“We’re not building homes fast enough,” Johnson says. He notes that while the average home price in the Miami area is roughly $100,000 more than it was a year ago (currently sitting at $446,000), that’s still significantly cheaper than the price of an average home in L.A., which is $948,000.
Nelly Ortiz, GM of DJ Khaled’s We the Best Music Group, relocated to Miami in the summer of 2020 after five years in New York and two in L.A. The move put her closer to family and the label’s Miami headquarters and provided the opportunity to upgrade to a bigger house.
“Personal space is very important to me, and owning your space is very important,” says Ortiz. “I’ve also had almost every partner, client and friend come to Florida, because it’s literally a destination state. Being here has given me the same flow, but also the blessing of more balance and more space.”
And this space isn’t simply for living, but expanding business. In October 2021, Austin Rosen, founder/CEO of Electric Feel Entertainment & Ventures (Post Malone, 24kGoldn, iann dior), purchased an 8,405-square-foot property in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood to house the new Electric Feel headquarters, which will include studios and offices. Since moving to Miami during the pandemic, he says many peers have called to weigh relocation for themselves or their clients.
Miami’s financial benefits extend beyond cheap real estate. Florida does not have a state income tax for individuals, meaning those who move there automatically save cash. “I’ve been able to start a record label, purchase songs, work with producers and create events using capital that otherwise would have been tied up in taxes,” talent manager Andersen says of this perk.
Of course, another way Florida differs may be less comfortable for members of the historically progressive music industry. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has stoked controversy by pushing for legislation that would allow Florida residents to openly carry firearms and signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which went into effect in early July and makes it illegal for public school teachers to instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity to children in kindergarten through third grade, and 51.2% of Florida voters went for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, according to CNN.
But while large swaths of Florida are deep red, the tri-county area is a longtime Democratic stronghold, with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach all going for Joe Biden in 2020. Andersen notes that “whether it’s gun legislation or LGBTQ rights and protecting our trans population, [in Miami] I’ve been able to find a political community that has also wanted to initiate outreach to other communities and build a coalition.” Additionally, with so many people arriving to the Miami area from major cities, new residents are easily finding like-minded communities. “Ninety percent of the people we’ve met down here are either from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Connecticut,” says Kleinfeld. “I’m watching the Rangers game, and everyone I’ve known down here for six months are Rangers fans.”
But like so many cities that were hit with a sudden population influx during the pandemic, everyday challenges are growing. Traffic in Miami now rivals that of L.A. and New York, and the cheaper cost of living that drew so many to the city is being mitigated by historic demand. (Johnson says rents in Miami are 31% higher than they were a year ago.)
“Nearly everything has increased in price, but I don’t think it’s something exclusive to Miami. It’s something that has happened worldwide,” says Rafa Madroñal, senior director of business development for Sony Music Latin, who moved to Miami from Spain in February 2020, just before the pandemic.
“Back in the day, a Cuban coffee colada used to be $1; now it’s $3,” adds WME’s Richard Lom, a Miami native who moved back to the city with his wife and children in the spring of 2020 after over a decade in New York.
As Miami’s economy evolves from tourism, hospitality and retirement to entertainment, tech and finance, wages among the labor force also aren’t high enough to support the number of workers needed for this infrastructure expansion. “You can’t get anything delivered to your home,” says economist Johnson, “because Amazon doesn’t have enough workers.”
Perhaps most crucially, many who made the move see Miami as a place to be when one is already established in the music business, and that it’s a harder city in which to cut one’s teeth. “A lot of the people who are down here moved to places like L.A. first,” says Kleinfeld, “and that’s where they actually made their footprint in the scene.”
“It’s incredibly difficult to bring a developing artist into South Florida,” Andersen adds, “especially with the rising cost of gas and transportation.” This is less true for Miami’s Latin music community, which has had a historically strong presence and today includes top executives, producers and artists from throughout Latin America. With the growth of Latin music over the last few years, the city has become an even more vital place to do business for anyone in this sector. “You have to be in Miami, because you have to be closer to the labels, closer to managers, closer to the right people in the industry,” says Colombian-born Juan Ballesteros, who manages Latin artists Greeicy and Mike Bahía and now spends four months of the year in Miami and the rest in Europe and Latin America. “Miami is definitely the place to be for that.”
But as the old guard collides with the new and the city rides out its current state of flux, the executives who’ve recently made the move all remain satisfied with the sunny lifestyles they’ve found.
“New York is great as far as grinding. L.A. is great in the health, life, mental wellness balance,” says Ortiz. “In Miami and South Florida, you kind of get both.”
Adds Kleinfeld: “I haven’t been back to New York since we moved.”