One thing that brings us together is music. It’s one of the only things in our lives that we don’t need to experience but can’t live without. Whether it’s attending a concert or a festival, listening to the radio in the car, watching a show on Netflix or attending a sporting event, the music is there.
With the music, however, what’s most important to us is what we hear – the song, the concert, how it made the movie more suspenseful – not the creative process. By enjoying or absorbing music, we ignore the infrastructure, whether physical or human, that is necessary to ensure that the music reaches our ears. Instruments had to be made, the venue had to be built, people involved needed training to learn how to play or produce, T-shirts and album covers had to be designed, and so on. It’s not just actions; these are jobs.
Yet this disconnect is more than ignoring the process while enjoying the end result, and it’s not specific to music. Few of us understand how planes fly, but we are happy to get on board. The same goes for food production. But when it comes to aviation, agribusiness, or any other industry, communities across the United States compete for factories, production facilities, and contractors. This is generally not the case with music. In fact, music is often conspicuously absent from workforce development policies, as most policy makers do not understand how the music ecosystem works.
Music is a complex and multifaceted profession. There is no single point of sale or single channel of production, distribution or consumption. Most jobs in the music economy are behind the scenes – production, logistics, hospitality, etc., and music is not, exclusively, a manufacturing activity. A song can be owned by dozens of people, creating complicated revenue streams and arrangements. Additionally, much of the industry’s growth is through streaming, not physical reproduction. It makes it hard to see.
As a result, traditional economic development strategies lack a deep understanding of business and how to attract it. Many communities invest in a unique location, like a concert hall, or something short-lived, like a festival, but few understand the basics of their industry – where it is, how much it’s worth, how it complements the community. economy at large. And while festivals are welcome, if there are no music education programs in the adjacent public school, the disconnect is compounded. No artist is born famous, and everyone comes from somewhere.
When you think of a city that advertises itself as a “Music City,” it’s a city that deliberately and intentionally uses music to promote itself, attract jobs, or celebrate heritage. We would tend to think of Nashville, which owns the “Nashville Music City” brand, or New Orleans, or Austin. But the music is everywhere. And it’s one of America’s fastest growing industries. In 2021, the global recorded music market grew by 18.4%, to $26.4 billion. Ticket sales are expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year, and more than $5 billion has been invested in music copyrights, prompting them to be seen as ‘a hot asset class’ . Globally, music revenues are expected to reach $131 billion by 2030, according to Goldman Sachs. Sales of musical instruments are at an all-time high. Yet, as a workforce to be developed, it is conspicuously absent across America.
It changes. In some places, music as a job creator, talent attractor and retainer is taken much more seriously. There are a number of reasons for this. On the one hand, the ability to work from anywhere creates an opportunity for many more communities to attract a creative workforce, and a thriving musical and cultural offering is a requirement for communities aiming to attract businesses and jobs. Huntsville, Alabama, for example, embarked on a music and economic development plan, which led to the creation of a city-funded “music officer” position, the appointment of a council music advisory board with the same civic impact as any other economic development board, and investing more than $40 million in a new amphitheater set to open May 13. In Fort Worth, Texas, music became part of a desire to link workforce development – especially young entrepreneurs – and tourism more closely, so much so that an office of the music was funded by the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. In Indiana, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the region’s engine of economic development, has made Fort Wayne a “Music City” as one of its strategic priorities.
It also impacts how cities and states deploy funding for the American Rescue Plan Act. Music – and the wider creative economy – fulfills a number of ARPA goals. The vast majority of the music industry is made up of small businesses, employing less than 10 people, and is active in low-income and disadvantaged communities. As a result, many places have used ARPA funding to recognize the importance of music as a driver of economic development. Tulsa, Okla., created Play Tulsa Music, to retain talent and invest in local performance. Delaware has awarded $1 million in ARPA funds to the Delaware Arts Alliance to support its work in music and the creative economy. Battle Creek, Michigan, has committed $347,000 of its ARPA stipend to a music-led cultural council.
But these are the exceptions rather than the norm. Most investment in music, arts and culture is still provided in the form of grants and directed to non-profit associations. Music, as a workforce, remains undervalued, underinvested and misunderstood. Few economic developers deliberately and intentionally explore how music can improve their communities and create jobs. This is despite the fact that the music industry is growing faster than most other industries and its output is what all of us, no matter who we are, consume all the time. The time has come to change. And it sounds good.
Shain Shapiro is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center For Music Ecosystems, a global non-profit organization dedicated to improving the economic role of music in communities, registered in Alabama and Estonia. He is also the founder and president of Sound Diplomacy, which advises on the growth of music, culture, recreation and hospitality in communities.
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