Post-Pandemic Music Ecosystems: How They Could Be Better in 2021. Part 1.

This is part 1 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 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

2020 has been a challenging year for many sectors of the music industry — especially live music, venues, and its supply chain. I have a number of friends who have lost their jobs and left the sector, which is disheartening. But I believe most will be back. There are a number of highly efficacious vaccines in production. While live music revenues have reduced by 64% this year, they are projected to rebound. The social and cultural impact music has had on society has been reaffirmed. Music is integral to improving our lives. We need music. That won’t change in 2021.

A music ecosystem includes not just the commercial and not-for-profit music industry, live music venues and festivals, it also includes music education, music’s role in health and wellbeing and the economic supply chain that makes music happen, front and back of stage. Many of these sectors have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. But there are reasons to be cheerful, as David Byrne says. We could emerge with better, more resilient and more sustainable music scenes. We could treat musicians with respect. We could recognise the economic, social and cultural impact of music in how we govern, invest and write policy. And in some places, this is happening. Here are a few reasons to feel hopeful.

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The Pandemic Is Forcing Us To Reimagine Cities, and This Benefits Music Ecosystems:

Prior to the pandemic, two hours of my day was spent commuting. Now, I go for a walk in the morning, have a leisurely breakfast, exercise and start the day fresher. At the same time, neighbourhoods are being turned over to pedestrians and cyclists. Urban parks are being planned, including ones replacing disused shopping centres. The concept of the 15-minute city has emerged, in which everything one needs is within a quarter-mile of where one lives. This can positively impact the music ecosystem. A greener, more pedestrianised city will bring music-making and experiences closer to where we live, which could offer opportunities to incorporate music into main street regeneration. Working anywhere means musicians and creatives can seek out cheaper places to live and work but still be afforded the same opportunities to create, so long as there’s broadband. Encouraging more walking and cycling and outdoor dining will force a conversation around how music, sound and noise interacts with place, so music can be treated more as a value-add, rather than a nuisance. This could foster a more holistic, supportive view to welcoming street performance and busking. A more cohesive relationship between planning and licensing could emerge, to facilitate this dense, mix of uses, so there’s more to experience closer to our homes. None of this is guaranteed, but how cities are changing is good for music. If we continue to influence and participate in these discussions, this can continue to improve in 2021. All 15-minute city strategies could include culture, music and the night-time economy in them. We would all be better off if they did.

The Creator Is Starting To Be Considered As Important As What They Create

I write about this often. We employ cognitive dissonance when we hear a song we like. All that matters at that moment is that song. How the song was made, produced, marketed and distributed is irrelevant, so long as that moment — the listening — happens. This has created a value paradox, where the music is valued at a far higher rate than those responsible for its creation. As a result, as live revenue collapsed, many songwriters were left to rely on streaming royalties for their income. And streaming, outside of the top 1%, does not pay the bills. Spotify pays, on average, $0.004 per stream.

If we value music, how songwriters and creators are remunerated for it has to be reformed. And these discussions are happening. An enquiry in the UK is exploring this.

Artists are becoming far more vocal about their recording contracts, with some making their public. At the same time, the market that buys and sells music rights is booming. Bob Dylan, for example, sold his catalogue of 600 songs for 9 figures. The recording business has increased in value during the pandemic.

If we began 2021 valuing the creator as much as the created, we would need to invest in the process of creation. This means education, infrastructure, digital literacy and development. More money for songwriters means more songwriters writing more songs. More songs mean potential revenue-generating rights.

The Music Sector Is As Organised As Its Ever Been

In the United States, the National Independent Venue Association started in February and now has over 2000 members. Now there are trade associations for booking agents and promoters, black music professionals and councils for music makers. A drive to create music policies is occurring in unlikely places, including Myanmar. There is more data about the impact music venues have on local economies than ever before. There’s greater recognition of the night time economy, including a recovery plan being written by crowdsourced experts. We at Sound Diplomacy have produced economic impact reports for over twenty cities and places, many of which are investing in their music ecosystems as a result of it. The United Nations has recognised the impact music has on the Sustainable Development Goals, opening up investment opportunities across music and global development.

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2021 presents a unique opportunity to argue that music has to be a key part of recovery planning. 2020 has proven we can’t live without it. It has also exposed the inequities in how music is made, invested in and distributed. But it has uncovered the opportunities music can bring. Music can make places vibrant. Music supports cognitive development. Music makes us happier. Music tells stories. Music brings us together.

So we should feel hopeful, but only if we’re willing to put the work in. I am. Will you join me?

Next week I’ll outline some of the strategies we can take together to create wealthier, more equitable music ecosystems in 2021, anywhere and everywhere.

As always, comments welcome. Or email me here:

Written by

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.

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