Post-Pandemic Music Ecosystems: How They Can Be Better In 2021: Part 4

This is Part 4 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 and Part 3 and Part 5.

2021 is the International Year for the Creative Economy in Sustainable Development. A number of events are being lined up around the world to better position the creative economy in how governments invest. This is yet another opportunity to position music ecosystem development as an integral investment in recovery.

Q3 and Q4 are looking bright. Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he’s confident that if “everything goes right”, live music and events can return to some sort of normalcy by the autumn. Some countries, like Germany, have created state-backed insurance schemes to support this, similar to ones that have existed for years in film & TV production. Denmark has created a ‘restart team’. Bright days are ahead.

Kenyan musician Tetu Shani / © Image courtesy of Tetu Shani, taken from

But, have we learned anything? Is music more recognised, protected, supported and importantly, invested in now compared to a year ago? In some ways, the answer is yes. Music rights are one of the best ‘alternative investments’ in 2021, according to Bloomberg. If you read music industry press, investment funds Hipgnosis, Round Hill, Primary Wave dominate the headlines. Yet, most musicians face significant hardship, even those whose music is popular on streaming platforms. As evidenced in the UK’s enquiry in music streaming, while consumption is up, the majority of artists are not benefitting. Of all jobs that require second jobs, musicians lead the way.

Thanks to @mrtomgray (on twitter) for the image

This was laid bare in a presentation I gave this week to two-dozen OECD ambassadors about the role of music in urban recovery. I told them that while music consumption is up 8.2% this year, 34% of musicians are thinking of quitting the profession. This raised some heads. How can this be, asked one of the ambassadors?

Not all musicians will earn a living through music, nor should they. Not all car drivers turn professional. Few poker players earn a living playing poker. Plys, the number of resources available to artists to promote their work is expansive. There are over 40 revenue streams for artists. Access to audiences is more widespread than ever. Yet, music education is in crisis. The live sector lost 85% of its revenue. While access to music is valued, remunerating those responsible for it equitably is not.

There’s a lot we need to accomplish in 2021, this Year of Creative Entrepreneurship — to improve the ecosystem for everyone. This starts locally. The reason the OECD Ambassadors were so confused by the paradox of consumption versus remuneration in music is that the value of the music ecosystem is too far away from their objectives. Bringing it closer to them, and their objectives are possible. But only if we do the following, as we move into this new year:

We Must Focus On Local First: Prior to the pandemic, much investment in local music ecosystems was outsourced to multinationals. When venues or community centres closed, artists turned to YouTube, or TikTok. Music was incorporated into investment strategies to lure external partners, such as how Austin lured Apple in 2018. Investing in music where the aim is to prioritise local music makers and infrastructure was often not the priority; there was often other means to this end. Our recovery offers an opportunity to rebalance this. In partnership with multinationals, local stakeholders can take more responsibility. This can be done through local-focused playlists, live streaming portals and partnerships with music education providers, for example, but it must be based on a reframing of how land is allocated and managed and how culture is incorporated into rethinking place. Up to 40% of retail units may not be needed now. Each one of these could be turned over to creators, rather than remaining empty.

This Requires A Statement Of Intent: A statement of intent, enshrined in city, town or place policy (signed by the Mayor or City Council) is step one — as it is a powerful tool in asserting that one must plan for and support music and culture in wider strategic policymaking. This is at the core of our Music Cities Resilience Handbook and something I’ve written about before. If there is no policy referencing an issue, it is not an issue. Write a music resolution now, stating how music matters and how it relates to wider recovery strategy — a plan for the plan — encompassing education, place, economy, nightlife, tech, innovation, training, health and safety, wellbeing and mental health — will ensure music is included and intent is stated. If you need help getting started, let me know.

Here are some examples:

All communities must have a clear, actionable goal when it comes to developing their music ecosystem, both in-person and online. As I wrote in Part 3, all communities could launch live streaming portals. All communities can invest in their music rights. A paragraph in a town or city charter referencing the value of music and the need to preserve it when land-use decisions are undertaken would be one option; ensuring local businesses are incentivised to use local music is another. I could go on. 2021 must be the year of policy, not promotion if we’re to maximise this year of creative entrepreneurship.

If we focus on specifics and actions, we will see more examples — cities and places recognising that investing in their music ecosystem is an integral part of their recovery strategy.

In Part 5, I will profile people who I look to for inspiration, before finishing the series with a recap of thoughts, ideas and policies in Part 6. As always, please contact me here.

Shain Shapiro, PhD is the Founder and Group CEO of Sound Diplomacy. He is also the executive director of the Center for Music Ecosystems, launching in 2021.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store