As well as being a prime location for headline tours, London is a springboard for up-and-coming talent and a place where musical sub-cultures thrive. More than 17,000 music shows are played each year in London's 300-plus unique venues, and affordable performances are easy to come by when you know where to look.
Alongside established areas like heritage-drenched Soho and punk stomping ground Camden, the latest sounds of the city are captured in the burgeoning creative communities in north and south east London. It’s here that you can discover new, experimental genres, underground club music and experience the UK grime movement at its peak - all at relatively little cost.
Grassroots venues in London
London’s small stages have long played an important role in launching the careers of artists and bands who are just starting out. The city's grassroots venues are a staple on the gig circuits of newer and lesser-known acts from the UK and beyond.
The likes of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Oasis all cut their teeth at the 100 Club in Camden, while Oslo in Hackney and Stoke Newington’s The Waiting Room are small spaces with big sound-systems, made for catching artists before they move on to grander stages. It’s in these unflashy clubs and pubs that you can see future stars for a fraction of the price of an arena show.
Middleweight artists occasionally return to these old favourites to practice new material ahead of bigger shows, so it’s always worth checking the listings for a chance to see your favourite band play to an intimate crowd.
Free music in London
Rough Trade Records’ flagship store on Brick Lane regularly hosts free gigs ahead of a new signing or album release. You’re just as likely to find musical giants as rookie bands on their listings - guests in recent years have included Jarvis Cocker, Blur and Queens of the Stone Age to name but a few.
Music always features heavily in the Southbank Centre’s cultural programmes. Get involved in sessions with local school and gospel choirs, classical orchestras and enjoy free Friday Lunch gigs every week.
The K-West Hotel in Shepherd's Bush used to be a BBC recording studio. Its Studio Bar is full of memorabilia from the building’s rock’n’roll past, where stars such as David Bowie, Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley recorded sessions. As well as being an atmospheric hang-out before heading to the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, the free live DJ sessions are worth keeping an ear out for.
The talented musicians studying at the Royal College of Music perform free lunchtime and rush-hour concerts at beautiful locations around the city. Keep up to date with their listings so you know when and where to find them.
From beatboxers in Brixton to opera singers in Covent Garden, to guitarists on Columbia Road Flower Market, buskers bring London’s streets and stations to life as you go about your day. You can find London’s best busking spots on the Busk in London map.
Live music for under £10
Lots of good noise comes out of the Rye Wax basement in Peckham’s CLF Art Café. Weeknight events spun by DIY producers, performers and DJs across the musical spectrum will only set you back a few pounds, if anything.
In Shoreditch, Camden and Brixton, the popular Blues Kitchen bars stage live rhythm and blues bands every night. Weekends draw a particularly big crowd, where you can usually watch up to three bands for under £10.
The Nines bar puts on monthly swing jazz sessions where you can don your dancing shoes and take part in a £5 Lindy hop dance class while the live band plays.
Look out for open-mic nights to hear unsigned rising stars for free. Neighbouring the more famous Union Chapel, The Library in Islington specialises in acoustic and folk, while Tooting Tram & Social is a talent scout haunt.
London music festivals
Get value for money watching music all day and all night at one of London's music festivals. Big name events including Lovebox, Field Day, British Summer Time and Meltdown all draw international attention for their leading line-ups, though there’s something to suit all ears with more genre-focused events such as the London International Ska Festival and the electronica-heavy South West Four.
Plus, on August Bank Holiday weekend, you can’t miss the sound of steel pans and modern takes on Jamaican calypso at the famously free Notting Hill Carnival.
Apps and websites for cheap tickets
Booking in advance is generally the best way to get tickets for a gig in London. Check with the venue to find official websites for buying tickets online.
For more ideas on how to discover music in London, take a look at our complete guide.