Post-Pandemic Music Ecosystems: How They Can Be Better in 2021: Part 3
This is part 3 of a series of articles about the future of music ecosystems in a post-pandemic world. The objective is to demonstrate that no matter where you live, 2021 can be a great year. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 4 and Part 5.
COVID-19 need not usher in the death of cities. Its recovery can usher in the best in cities and places. Investing in music ecosystems is how.
I have never been to Barrow-in-Furness. But their regeneration strategy makes me want to visit (post lockdown). As covered in The Guardian, the town is bidding for £25m from the UK Towns Fund to invest in cultural regeneration (culture in the widest sense of the word — playgrounds, parks, independent businesses, murals, public art, music and performing arts). Barrow is small and isolated. It is home to 57,000 people and is 45 minutes from the nearest motorway. But with people come creativity and instead of digging up and processing what’s in the ground, Sam Plum, the Borough Council CEO, is investing in his residents. A random group was assembled to discuss ways to better support the town. Investing in parks, playgrounds, independent shops and performing arts was agreed by consensus.
Barrow recognises that it can expedite its recovery by investing in its creative output. This is echoed by Richard Florida and Michael Seman in Brookings’ sobering Lost Art study in August. They state:
Substantial and sustained national creative-economy recovery strategy is required. This strategy must be bottom-up, but supported across the board and led by local public-private partnerships between municipal governments, arts and cultural organizations, economic development and community groups, philanthropy, and the private sector, with support from federal and state levels of government, national philanthropy, and large corporations.
At the same time, music consumption (and I believe most other art forms — look at the incredible success of TikTok Ratatouille) is increasing. In the UK, music consumption is up 8.2%. In New Zealand, the only place where venues and festivals operate normally, demand is outstripping supply. Yet, there have been a number of exaggerated articles claiming that COVID will lead to the ‘death of cities’. This is due to the shift to working from home and reduced occupancy of city-centre offices. For example, Deloitte’s latest survey outlines a 59% increase in vacancy rates in the United States in 2021. These are significant challenges. But let’s look at this differently.
If a place invests in culture, it has a greater chance of a faster, more equitable recovery. And more culture is being consumed now than ever before. So, how do we strategise?
By ensuring that music and culture are part of a recovery investment plan, we can improve cities and places. How we rethink space — public, private, indoor, outdoor, our minds — will determine if cities and places improve or regress in 2021. To maximise music and culture’s role, here are some interventions we’re working on. I’m curious what you think about it.
- Remember More: Celebrate Place Through Music Heritage: The story of a place is not only the story of its sounds, beats and rhythms, but also its experiences. Few places capitalise on the widest reaches of their musical heritage. Those that do often focus on specific artists or stories, ignoring vast swaths of music and cultural history that can redefine place. From murals and sculptures to walking tours, plaques, pop-up virtual exhibitions and street naming (Flaming Lips Alley in Oklahoma City, for example), music can come alive post-pandemic by how heritage is recognised. This will create greater recognition and resilience of the importance of music moving forward. A great example of recognising one’s heritage through music that supports local talent development is Fire in Little Africa, a podcast series exploring the 1921 Tulsa race riots through hip-hop.
- Think Online As Well As Offline: When we think of how to best develop music ecosystems, much of the interventions proposed are in the flesh; live music, in-person music education, better regulation to support music in the moment, and so on. This is integral as we move away from lockdown, but the isolation the pandemic has required has created an opportunity for all cities and towns — developing one’s virtual music ecosystem. For example, what if a city had a white-labeled live streaming portal for local artists, a sort-of online open-mic / incubator, where arrangements were in place to ensure artists were fairly renumerated for their performances? Could incentives be provided to businesses to improve live streaming capabilities at venues, so when events return, audiences could be welcomed online in partnership with tourism boards? Could music education partnerships be developed to provide music business training tools for local residents (Musicians Desk Reference and gener8tor are good and different examples), aligned with apprenticeship and training programs? All cities and towns should develop virtual music and cultural development plans, as well as planning for the physical future. Now’s the time.
- Cities and Places Can Be Music Publishers: Today another announcement of a large music catalogue purchase was announced, this time half of Neil Young’s catalogue by Hipgnosis. This type of investment is ideal for a public pension, investment, or sovereign wealth fund that is interested in consistent, long-term yield. Cities manage real estate and other assets; why not music? This is an ethical, people-focused investment, where one can at the same time invest in a resident and place’s present and future, all at once. I know this is a new way of looking at music rights — but what if the Alabama Teachers Pension Fund invested in Alabama Shakes (or their label, publishing company or another asset)? Food for thought.
- Take Responsibility: Install a Local Authority Music Expert in Residence: There are Night Czars, Cycling Czars, Food Czars, Obesity Czars and Drug Czars. Music or art czars, or musician/artists in residence, would incorporate this perspective into recovery debates, budgets, plans and processes. For example, installing a live music expert on a planning committee can save a lot of headaches when moving forward with greater housing density in commercial districts. If we’re to reinvigorate our downtowns and our main streets, we need to do so in a way where we can live, work and play at the same time. Better planning is made possible with a more diverse range of perspectives. This is in addition to a Music Board, Commission, or Task Force (although a representative from such a group could be the responsible party). And this position must be paid.
When it comes to music, culture and the arts, we tend to use the word relief. I prefer the word investment. We are investing in ourselves and our neighbours, our minds and our places. Music is one of the best tools to do so, so we can develop the best in cities as we emerge from the pandemic.
In Part 4 next week, I’ll outline what an ideal music ecosystem post-pandemic can look like. I will follow this with Part 5, profiling leaders of music ecosystem development around the world.
As usual, if you would like to connect, please contact me here.