This article explores the emergence of popular music as a niche cultural industry, connected to economic and social transformations on the New South Wales Far North Coast (also known as the 'Northern Rivers' region). The various images of the New South Wales Far North Coast as a 'lifestyle' region, 'alternative' locale and coastal retreat have attracted a diverse mix of ex-urban professionals, unemployed persons, youth subcultures, backpacker tourists and retirees. Yet, despite population growth, the region continues to suffer unemployment rates among the highest in Australia. Against this backdrop, diverse popular music 'scenes' have emerged, constituting an industry with linkages to cultural production in Sydney, Melbourne and overseas. While the region's unique cultural mix has been suggested as a key site of comparative advantage, future employment is likely to remain transient, insecure, and governed by industry-wide labour relations. This case study illustrates some of the complexities underpinning contemporary urban-regional change in Australia, and provides cautious assessment of the capacity of the cultural industries to reinvigorate rural economies.