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Top Ten (11) Things You Need to Develop a Music City

What does it take to become a Music City?  This question has occupied people on every continent over the last several years since the publication of The Mastering of a Music City by Music Canada.  Elected leaders, municipal officials, music community advocates and business leaders from a variety of towns, regions and cities, have been enticed by the idea of a vibrant music economy with its promised economic, social and cultural benefits.

Just the past weekend, over 30 cities sent teams to the Responsible Hospitality Institute’s (RHI) convening on sociable cities where Music Canada’s Executive Vice President, Amy Terrill, was asked to identify the top ten things cities need to develop a Music City.

RHI’s approach to sociable cities builds on a foundation of four key elements:  Form an Alliance, Plan for People, Assure Safety and Enhance Vibrancy with music falling into the final category.

Joining an international faculty of thought leaders, Terrill presented the following top 10 list (with a bonus number 11) for cities looking to develop as a Music City.

  1. Driver – there needs to be an individual or organization which has influence in your community that is passionately committed to this effort and is willing to resolutely move it forward. This may be a music organization or a leader in the music community; it may be a politician or the head of a city agency.  There will be many others needed to fill out the band, but there must be someone on lead vocals who can command respect and understands both music and municipal politics.
  2. Music Community engagement – it’s important the music community is fully engaged from the beginning of the process. Without their broad support, your program will likely lack authenticity and not succeed. Who will build trust in the music community and help overcome any skepticism about involvement from City Hall?  Who will organize the music community around the mission?  Who will keep the program rooted in what makes your city’s music scene unique?  Furthermore, representation from a broad cross-section of the community is critical to ensuring the program doesn’t become mired in industry politics.
  3. Champions – champions will be needed from many corners – city staff, and leaders of allied agencies like tourism, economic development, downtown business associations, chambers of commerce – people who understand what you’re trying to do and will rally support from their networks. Identify key stakeholders, as they will likely become important influencers and add legitimacy to your policy efforts.  We find impassioned music fans in all walks of life and often some of your key stakeholders will fall into this category.
  4. Political leadership – if your driver is not already in the Mayor’s office, then you will need to find a political champion. The support of a Mayor and members of City Council will be necessary when, inevitably, matters come to a vote before them.  In addition, political direction is paramount to motivating, or giving city staff the necessary reassurance, to add programs, change the ways things have always been done, or free up scarce city resources.
  5. Catalyst – it certainly helps to have a catalyst. Perhaps it’s a major music event or the opportunity to host one.  The annual JUNO Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammy’s) has been an effective catalyst for several host communities.  It might also be an election, a public policy consultation or even a crisis.  Any one of these things can provide the urgency needed to inspire people to take risks, do things differently and make the investment of time, creativity and resources that’s required.
  6. Validation – tap into best practices from other cities and the active network of advocates, policy makers, artists, municipal leaders which is leading the way in this work. Validation from other cities will make your job a lot easier and can be critical in convincing otherwise skeptical city leaders. It also enables you to identify key factors for success, and ensure that these aspects are incorporated into your own planning process.
  7. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses – measure your city against the essential elements of a Music City defined in The Mastering of a Music City as:
      1. Artists and musicians;
      2. Music ecosystem (professionals and businesses who support artists in their careers);
      3. Spaces and places (education, rehearsal, recording);
      4. Thriving music scene (venue ladder, all ages etc);
      5. Receptive and engaged audience.

You will not have 100% of all of these elements covered when you begin, but you need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are in these fundamental components.

  1. Strategy Development – ultimately you want to develop a music strategy for your community. Common strategies can be found in The Mastering of a Music City but while we can learn from other cities, there is no cookie-cutter approach.  Your strategy should be based on the unique aspects of your community.  Avoid the tendency to want to be all things to all people, or to try to do everything at once.  Begin with short term opportunities that will likely bear fruit quickly.  That will provide you with those early wins that will enable you to build momentum and amass allies. But it is also important to identify medium and long-term goals, as these enable you to design your policy and programming with the goal of sustainability.
  2. Clear roles and responsibilities – clarity about who is responsible for such things as strategy implementation and communication is essential for success. You will most likely involve volunteers on committees or advisory boards, as well as paid city staff or agency staff.  Ensure all participants are clear from the beginning about their roles.  Such things as committee terms of reference, job descriptions, and communication policies can be helpful.
  3. Succession Planning – while a successful program may benefit from the passion or expertise of individuals, in order to ensure longevity, you need to consider succession planning from the start.
  4. Patience – invariably this initiative will take longer to bear fruit than you expected. Bureaucracy can be slow to change; individuals and organizations can be heavily entrenched in doing things a certain way; and, there will be unexpected obstacles that deter you from your path.  Be patient and acknowledge each minor achievement along the way.

“It was a privilege to be part of the Sociable City Summit,” says Terrill.  “I was particularly impressed by the diversity of city representation with elected officials, city staff, downtown business leaders, law enforcement agencies, universities, venue operators, architects and other professionals coming together for conversations about the nighttime economy.”

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