Sound Diplomacy: Improving Music Cities Worldwide
For a music community to develop and thrive, it needs a city to grow in. So what is about iconic cities like London, Chicago, and Nashville that allow a local music culture to thrive, and how is this culture affected by governments and business? Sound Diplomacy seeks to answer these questions.
Guest post by Leticia Trandafir of Landr
Music communities don’t exist on their own—they need cities to live.
Some cities are famous for their music scenes: London, Chicago, Nashville, Berlin… What is it about these places that makes their scenes thrive? How do governments and businesses affect music?
Sound Diplomacy is answering these questions. This is an international initiative that gives policymakers, business owners and musicians tools to make music communities thrive.
Music communities are complex ecosystems—everything matters and works together, for better or worse. A good policy or business move might mean more venues and rehearsal spaces for more musicians. A bad one could kill an entire music scene. With the importance of gigging for independent musicians, there has never been a more crucial time to nurture the relationships between cities and their music communities.
Sound Diplomacy has consulted with the Mayor of London, advised governments in Cuba, Brisbane, Armenia, Costa Rica and St. Lucia, contributed to Katowice’s successful UNESCO City of Music bid and helped over 500 artists and companies break into new markets.
We spoke to Lucas Knoflach, responsible for Market Development at Sound Diplomacy to discover some of the most exciting projects and policies affecting musicians in cities across the world today.
What brought you to Sound Diplomacy, what is your background?
I have a degree in International Business & Media Management. While studying I also worked in the music industry—first at an independent record label/agency in Vienna (Austria) and then managing two Canadian artists for some years.
I started at Sound Diplomacy around two and a half years ago, after moving to Berlin to freelance and curate the speaker program for the conference Tech Open Air.
What is the link between city policy and music?
The link isn’t obvious. But good city policies support development across the music ecosystem—from live music, to music education, to music business.
It’s important to take a holistic approach. When we look at music in cities, it’s important to define or understand how music creates value in our communities.
Overall, music increases the quality of life for everybody.
There is the economic side—a healthy music scene creates sustainable economic value, increases tourism, leads to higher retention of talent.
But music also creates more intangible values—such as social inclusion. Learning an instrument improves memory, sharpens concentration and raises IQ. Overall, music increases the quality of life for everybody.
What does a healthy music ecosystems look like?
For cities it’s important to think in terms of music ecosystems—taking a holistic approach. That means everything from supporting music education, venues of different sizes, to music business and understanding how public transport affects nightlife throughout the city.
For cities it’s important to think in terms of music ecosystems—taking a holistic approach.
A healthy music ecosystem (or a healthy music city) understands the effect of city policies and music policies have and how stakeholders—from musicians to consumers—can be supported through every step of their musical journey.
We recently released an infographic about becoming a music city. It explains a lot of the things I mentioned and also give you some insights into our approach:
What are some examples of laws that hurt the development of music?
Planning frameworks in cities often favor economic return and profit for its stakeholders. The people who get left out are often those in need of affordable housing, or places that don’t generate immediate profit for its stakeholders: concert venues, rehearsal spaces, community centers… Spaces that are important for a music community to flourish.
There are examples of policies that single out certain communities, or that don’t support development of music across different scenes and genres equally. Just last month the London Metropolitan Police abolished something called the Form 696 Risk Assessment, a document some promoters had to submit. The form was accused of singling out certain groups and disproportionately affecting live performances within grime and garage genres.
In October, New York City scrapped the cabaret law. Before the law was discarded, dancing was only allowed in places that obtained a cabaret license. This law put pressure on venue owners and was accused of being arbitrarily enforced and discriminating. In Sweden such a law still exists and has been in place since the 70s. It aims at preventing “spontaneous dancing,” so if you expect people to dance, you better have a dancing permit there!
What can be done to reverse or change those laws?
A lot of positive change can be achieved through communication, and translating between the needs of the music community and politicians. In Berlin, the Club Commission has been lobbying for the city’s clubs and venues since 2004 and has affected a lot of positive change and understanding since then.
A lot of positive change can be achieved through communication, and translating between the needs of the music community and politicians.
In London, we have been working closely with the Mayor and were instrumental in the development of the Mayor of London’s Music Board and the Night Time Commission and are the acting Secretariat of the London Music Board. These positions and structures have been created over the past few years to secure the development of London’s music scene and reverse the closure of grassroots venues in the city.
What is the Music Cities movement?
The idea of Music Cities has existed for quite a long time. Traditionally the concept has been connected to Nashville, but in recent years the term Music Cities has gained more traction. Today the term Music Cities reflects cities that proactively support the development of the music ecosystem.
In 2015 we organized the first Music Cities Convention in Brighton and Washington. Together with the Hamburg Music Business Association, Sound Diplomacy also created the Music Cities Network, which fosters collaboration and knowledge exchange between its member cities. More and more cities are starting to understand the importance of securing and developing their cultural and music scenes—Sound Diplomacy is here to help with that.
The concept of night-time economy is gaining some traction. Explain what it is and how is affects artists and cities.
There is no strict definition of when daytime economy stops and night-time economy starts, but generally the concept refers to business that happens outside of traditional business hours, which includes culture and nightlife, but also covers evening transport, restaurants and sports.
In response to this interest in the night-time economy, cities such as Amsterdam and more recently London have created the position of night mayor (or night czar) which liaises between nightlife, residents and the government. In Amsterdam the night mayor negotiated 24 hour licenses for a certain number of clubs outside the city center. In London, Sadiq Khan released a 24 hour vision for the city, where culture and music play a big role.
These initiatives react to changes in lifestyle, needs and working situations in cities. For musicians this means that there are more possibilities to perform, more space to experiment and generally more freedom, while making sure that other stakeholders are not negatively affected.
Leticia is a lover of acid basslines and hypnotic techno. She DJs and produces under the name softcoresoft. Writer at LANDR.