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March 19, 2015updated 29 Jul 2021 10:33am

"Music cities": on why municipal governments should think of their music industries when planning

By Shain Shapiro

In 2013 in Adelaide, a report appeared under the heading, “The Future of Live Music in South Australia”. Written by music promoter Martin Elbourne, and backed by a variety of local and regional government agencies, it outlined how the industry, and those that live and work in South Australia, could create a more economically sustainable music scene for the region, boosting Adelaide’s creative and economic output. ​

It put forward 49 recommendations, including  reforming certain city ordinances and licensing policies. It proposed a “cluster development strategy”, to bring music, music tech and other sectors together in co-working space. And it called on the government to rethink where it located festivals, to revitalise city centre squares and public spaces.  

In the same year, the city of Montreal concluded a programme of culture called Montreal Festimania. An alliance of 11 of the city’s summer cultural events, Festimania was intended to raise awareness of Montreal as a festival city, for tourism, soft power and city branding purposes. Since that pilot concluded, a new policy has emerged called Quartier des Spectacle: a sort of “Montreal Festivals Quarter”, ​where ​most of the city’s music and cultural festivals – from Montreal Jazz Fest to Just For Laughs – occur.

The infrastructure in the surrounding area has been improved with fibre-optic broadband, reformed licensing and city-led soft branding, all to make clear that the city is open for festivals and the businesses they attract.

Then there’s Toronto, which formed an official alliance with Austin, and, like the Texan capital, began calling itself a “Music City”. It produced a report detailing what Toronto could learn from Austin’s pragmatic approach to hosting cultural events and music festivals, and what benefits it would offer for the local economy. 

Such policies have helped make Austin one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. In the hope of copying that success, Toronto, as of last year, has had a dedicated music industry support officer, a role that only exists in a handful of cities around the world. 

Many people have analysed local music industries, in reference to planning, policy and city strategy. But rarely has it been done with the city and its residents in mind.

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What’s changed over the last year it that it’s not just the creators who are being analysed, but the facilitators, in the form of city authorities. “Music cities” have emerged from Canada to Australia, Africa to Scotland. Four cities around the world are crowned Cities of Music each year: this year’s crop include Brazzaville, Congo, and Mannheim, Germany. A music industry association in Canada​, is producing the first comprehensive “Music Cities” ​analysis, staging over a dozen focus groups to understand, globally, what that term means qualitatively and quantitatively. ​

Historically, this debate has been led by the music industry itself – usually in an effort to lobby for better policy, more funding, recognition or, in some places, to be noticed at all. But this needs to change. If this debate is kept within the confines of the music industry, its impacts will remain focused on the music itself.

And this is to miss the point.  Supporting one’s music industry is not only about creating better, more sustainable bands. It is also about creating better, more vibrant, more sustainable cities. 

Take an apartment complex with a music venue or restaurant below it. With proper planning regulations and communication with developers, venues can be adequately soundproofed. Agreements with tenants and investors who understand pre-existing space use before they move in will save cities and developers money and time, that they’d previously have wasted on repurposing land use or fighting noise bylaw challenges.

There are other ways a music industry impacts on the urban environment, too. City festivals and their demand for connectedness provide further evidence that we need more intensive broadband capabilities; while compulsory music education develops more creative, engaged citizens.  More suitable, active venues provide better conditions for performers, and more reasons for transport systems to run later (this, after all, is one of the arguments that led parts of the London tube network to begin planning for 24 hour service at weekends). 

Finally, the legacy projects left by large-scale cultural or sporting events, like the Olympics or Capital of Culture programmes, are enhanced by greater engagement with creatives, who flock to such spaces after the events have concluded. I believe that supporting one’s music industry is the cheapest way to develop more vibrant, creative and economically prosperous cities. 

On Battersea Park Road in London, as you pass the development that was once a power station and will soon be luxury flats, you’ll see placards advertising exclusive concerts and cultural events for residents. With proper licensing, foresight and planning communication, such events could enhance the livability of a district. Without it, they could just end up generating complaints, traffic and noise.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, the world’s leading music market development agency.

The first Music Cities Convention will be held in Brighton on 13 May

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