On Saturday May 7th, Music Canada and Canadian Music Week brought close to 200 entrepreneurs, industry executives, tourism experts, artists, and musicians from all over the world together to talk about Music Cities—the shared realization that cities across the globe enjoy an often-huge economic dividend from the creation, performance, and reception of music.
The conference, which was hosted by Music Canada’s Executive Vice President Amy Terrill, was an expression of “The Mastering of a Music City” report, a roadmap for realizing the full potential of cities’ music economies. The Music Cities Summit featured a keynote address by Toronto Mayor John Tory and saw speakers from cities across Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia share ideas and best practices.
The summit featured a keynote presentation from Lesa Ukman, the Chief Insights Officer of Lesa Ukman Partnerships, who spoke about how Music Cities can use public/private sponsorship, not only to brand and promote themselves, but to support business mentoring and create studio space. Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics, spoke in his keynote about how measuring the benefits of music, including the social impact, is a story that needs to be told.
One of the key themes that emerged was the incredible value of music history and music culture. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said in his opening address, having successful musicians deepens the “creative core” of a city. A vibrant music scene attracts young, innovative, and talented professionals from all sectors—not just from music.
Tim Arnold, a musician from London’s Soho district, spoke about the importance of healthy cultural environments for artists—places where diversity is accepted and music can be nurtured. Like Arnold’s Soho home, these are places with deep history and culture, and they are places that are in danger and need to be protected. While music is moving forward, Arnold said that it is important to remember where we came from.
Speakers from Liverpool and Memphis, two cities which share an official “friendship link” based on their shared musical connections, spoke about how their cities leveraged their music history to brand and market themselves to the world; Liverpool with The Beatles, and Memphis with its blues, soul, and rock and roll roots. Kevin Kane of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, challenged attendees to find the one landmark in their own communities around which to build a story like Memphis’ Graceland.
All cities, whether already Music Cities or not, have to deal with balancing the preservation of their cultural infrastructure with the demands of development. Attendees at the Music Cities Summit heard speakers from London, UK talk about the staggering loss of 1/3rd of the city’s venues as the city struggles to accommodate a massive demand for residential development. These closures had a huge effect on the local music scene, as Shain Shapiro of Sound Diplomacy noted on his panel. It is in the small, grassroots venues where artists begin to develop their talent and their audiences. “We need to think of music venues like we think of innovation hubs,” said Shapiro, a mindset that is critical to solving this problem.
In a panel hosted by Toronto’s Music Development Officer Mike Tanner which explored the relationship between live music festivals and cities, Fruzsina Szep, Festival Director for Lollapalooza Berlin, characterized festivals as “cultural diplomats.” Indeed, the general conclusion of the panel was that festivals and cities strengthen each other, especially when there is a conversation between the community, the city, and festival producers.
The Music Cities initiative is about more than just live music. This key point emerged in a panel which asked, “if not live, then what?” The answer, it turns out, is music education. In Seattle, for example, the city sponsors an annual “City of Music Career Day” conference which provides young people opportunities to meet and network with professionals in the industry. Denver has a program which brings musicians into classrooms to teach music.
The Summit came to a close with an acknowledgement of the various municipal officials in the room, including Councillor Jeff Leiper from the City of Ottawa, and Councillors Josh Colle, Shelley Carroll and John Filion from the City of Toronto. In fact, that is why the Music Cities Summit is so important, because cities all around Ontario, like Toronto, London, Kitchener, and Hamilton, (and around the world, cities like Columbus, Detroit, Liverpool, and Aarhus) are all engaging with their music sector and working to become more music and musician friendly cities.
-- Author Alex Clement is Policy Assistant for Music Canada,