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How music impacts city planning Part 3: Metaverse

In the third and final instalment of his series, Center for Music Ecosystems director Shain Shapiro looks at the opportunities for music cities in the metaverse

11 Feb 2022

How music impacts city planning Part 3: The metaverse

In the third and final instalment of his series about the impact of music on city planning, Center for Music Ecosystems director Shain Shapiro looks at the opportunities for music cities in the metaverse…

For most city planners and elected officials I speak to, music is both something to celebrate and a unique curiosity. Most gravitate to what they can see, so live music always takes precedence; how to attract more of it and with it, more occasions to celebrate the community and generate revenue. As such, live music is most policymakers’ entry point to their music ecosystem, because unless one’s a musician, it is rare to step inside a music school, studio or production facility.

When live music stopped during the pandemic and livestreaming expanded, this relationship changed. Some cities held livestreamed festivals, but far fewer than they would in person. Tax revenue dried up and cities went quiet, and while venues and facilities received state and local support in many countries, this funding did not reach everyone and as a result, venues and other hospitality businesses closed.

Now, as 2022 continues, we all have a unique window of opportunity, because live music, festivals and all the economic activity that comes with it is returning. However, if this new normal was combined with capturing the opportunities available to cities online, we could further accelerate the resurgence of each community’s music ecosystems. However, for much of the world, the innovation created and nurtured online, be it through livestreaming or more recently, what’s happening on gaming platforms, has been lost on cities. And this loss is a missed opportunity.

“Through investing in both online and offline experiences, cities can jumpstart the resurgence and increase the resilience of their music ecosystems”

For the most part, cities – and all those who work in them – are not recognising how significant an opportunity converging local music investments with complementary virtual strategies can be. To remedy this, this is the final idea I want to propose for 2022 in this series – that through investing in both online and offline experiences, cities can jumpstart the resurgence and increase the resilience of their music ecosystems. If this is encouraged and guided, it will be musicians and the sector as well as where they live that will mutually benefit the most.

Cities, governments and aligned organisations (like chambers of commerce and tourism boards) are external investors in our talent development. This is essentially additional capital, provided outside the sector, to support new and existing talent. This comes in many forms; the development of a venue or creation of a music hub, or a progressive tax policy. These investments are tied, most often, to the built environment. If these policies – such as investing in education or offering rebates to support emerging music rights acquisition – were inclusive of the revenue opportunities in the emerging virtual music ecosystem, there’d be more reasons for cities to invest.

But translation remains an issue. The emergence of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the web 3.0 infrastructure remains far removed from how cities and public administrations work. There are many examples, for example this festival in Croatia operated as a digitally autonomous organisation (DAO), which allows community members to choose artists, locations and services, but they remain few and far between. Paying one’s council tax online, for example, remains a challenge for many. Much of America still uses cheques. While cities are being created every day on gaming platforms and new performances and experiences emerging in them, actual places are not yet recognising the potential benefits they offer, be it to invest in facilities able to host their virtual performances or ensuring high speed broadband is available to all, so creators can get online in the first place. There are few music education programs that explain these new revenue streams or the intricacies of copyright in general, particularly to teenagers and young adults, if education is available at all.

This disconnection reduces the opportunities for both our built environment and metaverse to capitalise fully on what music has to offer. Few communities – through their public sector pension funds for example – are invested in music rights, despite the fire sale happening across the sector. Moreover, many of these acquisitions are to purchase catalogue – music we already know
– rather than setting up funds to invest in new music, our future catalogue. New artists and their music are not part of these investments.

“Investors are recognising the benefit of music’s long tail, but cities – and their investment pots – are not”

In our physical cities, in the flesh, music is about its immediate impact – what it does to us right here, right now. Online – as more revenue streams appear for songwriters and rights holders – music is becoming more about what it can do to increase the value of something else – one’s online collection, or an experience in a game, for example. This long tail benefit of music remains absent in most of our cities and places and, with it, the revenues it could generate to fund music services and infrastructure, online and offline. As a result, Investors are recognising the benefit of music’s long tail, but cities – and their investment pots – are not. And in most cases, it’s the investment from cities that underpins our lives, from the broadband we need to access and experience music, to the public transit we take to get to the gig. Moreover, the virtual music ecosystem can be far more accessible, as it is not burdened by historic obstacles that afflict all our cities, such as redlining, colonialism or systemic racism or physical barriers, like stairs into a venue. Everyone that has broadband, in theory, can benefit.

It is in all our self interest, as those creating, disseminating and promoting music, to create the path of least resistance to the buyer at all times. By explaining how cities – and the organisations that invest in them – can benefit economically from music, we will all benefit. We all live somewhere and no matter how popular one is in the metaverse, nothing happens without electricity and broadband. Incorporating the benefits of music – in all forms and functions – into how communities strategise is an opportunity for all of us in 2022. Linking the breadth of new revenue pots in the metaverse, and linking them back to place, will ensure we all win.

I hope you enjoyed this series of articles (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here) exploring how we can bring together our sector and the built environment more in 2022, to create a more sustainable, resilient and profitable music economy for all of us.



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