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Over the past few years, we have worked around the world developing a new strategy cities, governments and developers. This strategy uses music – across all genres, disciplines and sectors – to drive greater revenue and growth across a city’s investment portfolio. To me, music is an ideal tool to look at the holistic health of a city.  Music is often the canary in the development coal mine; if music leaves an area, often further sanitisation is next.  But if music – across education, evening and night time economy, industrial development, health and wellbeing – is supported, we often see more liveable cities because of it. So much so that it’s been seen that attending a gig every week adds years to one’s life. Or so it has been argued.

For the most part, we encounter cities utilising music passively, either by granting approvals to private-sector partners to develop and operate music infrastructure, or incorporating music heritage – many dead people – into their tourism strategies. Few Chambers of Commerce have music officers and even fewer economic development, or regeneration authorities embed music specialists in their strategic development. Most often, whether it is a band at a reception, or welcoming a music festival to town, music used without intentionality.

Until a few years ago, no strategy existed that linked everything music had to offer – education, health and wellbeing, talent attraction, increased tourism – to overall city policies, despite a world where 2/3rds of us will be living in cities by 2050, and those cities will become denser, noisier and more cramped. And despite all this, we have the right to enjoy our urban spaces, express ourselves and experience music (and other art forms).

Throughout this process, we’ve encountered a number of challenges around the world that cities think are unique but exist in ubiquity. Across the world, residential development bumps up next to lively, entertainment districts. We all work later and want access to more services outside of traditional work hours. No matter where you are, no one has been able to measure what success is, in terms of using music to drive growth, jobs or tourism outside of social media impressions of surveys.

Plus, more infrastructure need not mean a healthier music or creative community, and the growth of the music industry in a place does not mean music – in its totality – is impacting every community member.  But while noticing these challenges, similarities began to prop up.  If a city acted deliberately, it could better control challenges and mitigate risk.  If it stated its belief in music, those in the sector responded positively. A sort-of manual was being created through our research and work, based on trends and qualitative analysis.  So we decided to write it down. This is our Music Cities Manual.

Some cities are music incubators, rather than industry leaders. Others focus on tourism and heritage, rather than living culture. Some specialise in a particular music sector – such as songwriting – while others use music in an ancillary fashion to attract other sectors, such as tech and gaming. No city is alike, but all cities share the reality that music is everywhere and is an asset, an industry, a marketing tool, a vocation and a way to improve our lives and wellbeing. It has impact.

This Music Cities Manual is our attempt to synergise this impact and present it in an actionable, structured fashion that cities, placemakers, developers and other stakeholders can use to understand – plainly – why music matters. Music is of economic, social and cultural benefit in urban regeneration. But it’s not enough to state this. For example, in some places we found that music is an effective way to discuss more difficult issues around social integration and inequality; or a way to challenge building codes, outdated noise ordinances and street performance being zoned in the same policy as panhandling. In others music is a marketing tool, from being emblazoned on license plates to signage around town, positioned to attract investment, a skilled workforce or tourists. Music provides solutions to training our developing workforce, while ensuring we’re actively taking care of the aging. Music is a tide that binds all of this, all our social challenges as we grow, diversify and densify.

Previous guides around music have looked specifically at ‘music cities’ as a way to grow one’s music industry.  This is important – integral even – but it’s one KPI. There’s much more. So we offer this 13 step process of identifying how music impacts your place, and the outcomes it can deliver through action across local, regional and national policy.  There’s no singular audience; it’s written for all stakeholders – urban planners, city officials, concerned citizens, creatives and artists. All cities, as I’ve argued on these pages, need a music strategy. We hope this provides more clarity on why, and is a clarion call for all cities around the world to get started. We look forward to sharing it with you at Midem at our Music Cities Forum.


The Music Cities Forum‘s 3rd edition will take place at Midem on June 6, In association with Sound Diplomacy. Music execs will meet leaders from governments, cities and regions to discuss the relationship between music, economic development and city planning. See you there!


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About Author

Shain Shapiro

Shain Shapiro is the President of Sound Diplomacy, a consultancy helping governments and businesses achieve their social, cultural and economic goals, using music as a tool.

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