Intentional efforts to nurture a vibrant local music ecosystem can create jobs, grow and attract talent, enhance tourism, and make communities more engaging, said Jennifer Vey, senior fellow for Brookings Metro and director of the Brookings Institution’s Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking. Vey spoke during a Brookings webinar in February exploring the role of music in transformative placemaking.
Conducting a music audit across all disciplines, from church choirs to commercial venues, generates data that can help cities understand their music industries’ economic and social impact, assess regulations that could help grow a music economy and identify pathways to building a robust music ecosystem, said Shain Shapiro, executive director of the Center for Music Ecosystems and chairman of research and strategy consultancy Sound Diplomacy.
According to a June 2022 report by Brookings, “a music audit involves looking deeply at the role of music across city departments, initiatives, and disciplines — including workforce development, quality of life, and investment priorities — to understand where strengths and weaknesses lie, and what connections can be enhanced to leverage music to produce socioeconomic benefits for residents.”
Huntsville, Alabama, was the first U.S. city to embark on a data-driven journey to amplify its music economy strategically, Mayor Thomas Battle Jr. said during the webinar. In 2018 it created a music office and hired a full-time music officer to help the industry grow. It has since hosted over 150,000 guests for concerts and community events at a new 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater that opened in May 2022. “Creating a more dynamic and diverse music ecosystem is something that we’re taking seriously because it strengthens our economy, and it also promotes tourism,” Battle said.
Sound Diplomacy has helped more than 120 cities around the world develop music economies for “the external benefit of music on everything else,” including workforce and tourism development, community development and equity, Shapiro said.
To build support for a music economy, music advocates within the local community need to emphasize the role music plays in workforce development, how it brings more “heads in beds” — i.e., visitors — and how it can create “wider, better community placemaking strategies,” Shapiro said. He added that collecting and tailoring data to these messages is the best way to make those points to community leaders.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, conducted a music audit and has made serious investments in its music scene, “really expanding that in the placemaking space from a straightforward tourism lens,” said Renee McKenney, president of Tulsa Regional Tourism and senior vice president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
Tulsa hosted more than 1,600 live performances last year in venues including the historic Cain’s Ballroom, the Woody Guthrie Center and the Bob Dylan Center, McKenney said. Visitors can build a music vacation around the city, “and people will leave their money in Tulsa, but they also have a great community, shared value and great experience that feeds into the local business community,” she said.
Huntsville hopes to “create a music identity that will lure residential and commercial development,” Battle said, adding that “a rich, diverse and inclusive music ecosystem is vital to our long-term strategy for smart growth.”
Victoria Jones, a Huntsville singer-songwriter and community partnership manager for entertainment provider tvg hospitality, said bringing music to the forefront “breathed new life into our city, and it also created balance — something that was less stoic than before.”