Few of them are funded, staffed and have regulatory power. This must change.
On 19 January, the City of Philadelphia approved a resolution to create a Philadelphia Music Office. While a task force has been in operation since 2019, this is the first step the city is taking to investing city-wide in its music ecosystem. These votes – where music is discussed intentionally in council chambers – are less becoming an exception and more the trend. In 2022, dozens of cities and places around the world either created, bolstered or improved their engagement with their music industries and ecosystems. In the West Midlands, in the U.K., a music board was founded, joining the likes of Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and soon, Belfast. A number of cities in the United States invested in music censuses, including Sacramento and Chattanooga. In the Middle East, significant investments were made in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to bolster music related offices and commissions. The Belize Tourism Board and Invest Puerto Rico, for example, commissioned their first studies into music. So did the Philippines, Costa Rica and Zimbabwe. In Canada, many communities embarked on strategic plans, including Kingston and Niagara Falls in Ontario. The National Music Centre in France, CNM, continued to expand; so did Australia’s Live Music Office, where $300 million AUD was just confirmed for culture, including a dedicated national office for music. It has been a busy period for music and place-based advocacy.
At the same time, how local communities invest in their music ecosystems continues to expand. The Music Venue Trust’s crowd funder to invest in buying the land underneath music venues to ensure they remain music venues is gathering pace. In the U.K., for example, £25 million was invested in music education. Trade associations established during the pandemic to represent the live sector expanded, including LIVE and NIVA. New unions to represent musicians have appeared in the United States and Faroe Islands. The music sector is becoming a global player in tackling the climate emergency. And alongside, the commercial, recorded music sector grew by 18.4% and live music, especially larger shows and festivals, had a bumper year.
All this activity should lead to a more equitable, inclusive music sector that benefits more musicians, workers and communities. But while these advancements should be applauded, they continue to be plagued by systemic failures. First, much of the initiatives, music boards and commissions created were done so with no budget allocated for case work. A talking shop is just that, and few of these new boards are funded bodies with regulatory influence in city, state or national budgets. There are models emerging, such as Huntsville, Alabama which have a city funded music officer position and Liverpool in the U.K., which allocated £1.6 million to its music board, but these are exceptions, not the norm.
While Philadelphia, and all the aforementioned places should be applauded for passing resolution or setting up initiatives, one all places should replicate, without matching it with investment in officers, policymakers, outreach and community development, it is a resolution, or a few meetings, and often little else. It takes resources to build or fix infrastructure or tackle systemic problems, such as underinvestment in diverse communities or a lack of a safety net for artists and entrepreneurs. And when initiatives are launched with volunteers only or in an advisory capacity with no legislative teeth, it is difficult to foster change, because those involved have other jobs taking priority.
This is a music-specific challenge
This is not the case in film, fine art or sport. Most commissions representing these sectors in cities, states and places are staffed bodies with regulatory influence. They issue tax credits, conduct trade missions (such as this one Seattle has done) to attract talent. Each has staff at the end of the phone to answer queries and advocates paid to lobby for and represent sectoral interests. Public art in many cities benefit from receiving 1% of hotel, property or other taxes. While it can be argued investment in fine art is not significant enough, there are few 1% for any other creative industry in city budgets, music included.
We must change
An investment in a music board, commission or music strategy is not solely an investment in musicians, venues and the music ecosystem. Instead, it is an investment in the wider community, where external benefits can be measured to demonstrate return on investment in addition to fostering more music, more events and more creative businesses. From music education increasing literacy rates, reducing truancy in high schoolers and fostering multiculturalism, to investments in music therapy reducing the burden on the health service, there are direct, external benefits to music that can impact everyone. Music can make communities smarter, fairer and more vibrant, but better assessment tools and analysis is required to sustain this argument, win it, and accrue resources. For example, growing Zimbabwe’s music strategy need not be solely about music stakeholders. It is a way increase competitiveness, pay back debt, create sustainable, non-extractive jobs and address the climate emergency. This is the power music can have, if we changed how we viewed it.
This growth in music related initiatives, boards and commissions is to be applauded, but it can also lead to backlash. If nothing happens in a place, it is twice as hard to advocate that engaging with music is worth the investment. This is our chance, given how many places are recognising the potential power of music. So let’s celebrate this step in the right direction, but recognise that this only just that, a first step.