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Live music can help cities bounce back after Covid-19

Notwithstanding the significant challenges the economy is facing, as 81% of the global workforce is negatively impacted by the crisis, we are seeing a newfound commitment in some cities and countries to supporting their music sectors.

Some are doing better than others. In France, a festivals fund has been launched to support grassroots and independent music festivals. In the UK, the statistics published by the UK Live Music Group are a cause for concern, especially with the furlough scheme set to end or be revised at the end of June. Much of this intervention has been dedicated to national responses. But if we look to our cities, we are seeing even more positive change. But much of this is not immediate.

Before the crisis, music policy was a piecemeal, ad-hoc affair for most city governments. Some cities have active relationships with their music communities. Most didn’t. Music tends to be governed by something else, be it environmental health, culture or tourism departments. Few cities have music offices or live music specialists. What we’re seeing – at least in its beginnings – is a shift towards active engagement with music, with cities looking at the sector – and especially live music – as a recovery tool. While this is not yet producing actionable solutions to replicate, it is seeding a shift in mindset worth highlighting.

What we’re seeing is a shift towards active engagement with music, with cities looking at the sector as a recovery tool

This has started with relief. The mayor of London contributed £450k to Music Venue Trust’s Save Our Venues campaign. In New Orleans, a local livestream – Band Together – to support musicians and local venues raised $41,000 in three hours. In Seattle, music venues are being explicitly mentioned in relief funds. The Columbus Music Commission is organising curbside concerts for elderly residents stuck at home, and paying artists in the process. In Liverpool, support is coming from a pot once dedicated to strategic investments. United We Stream is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in Berlin, Amsterdam, Manchester and other places. This is on top of national support being allocated to the live sector, which is – while not universal – significant.

In addition, a number of other cities are looking at changing policy and practice. St Louis, through a new music initiative, has begun a wide ranging music policy project focused on ensuring music, from now on, is included in all levels of civic discourse. In Madison, Wisconsin, a widespread civic initiative is underway to create a ‘Madison Music City’ advocacy organisation, to follow on from its music and equity taskforce last year. Huntsville, Alabama passed an ordinance to create a music board, which meets monthly. Its first task was to provide music-specific Covid-19 resources, via the city council’s website, to local musicians and creatives. Since, the city has launched an emergency response programme. Eight cities in the US and Canada are working with volunteers to explore how to reopen their venues safely. The new Independent Venue Association in the USA is gaining significant traction in changing policy so its members – and those they employ – are eligible for relief like any other business. While some of these initiatives may have begun before Covid-19, all have accelerated in the crisis.

While still exceptions, a number of cities – and the agents of change working with them – are recognising the value of live music and beginning to reimagine how to better support the sector. However, there are over 4,000 cities in the world with over 100,000 people and these changes are a drizzle, not a downpour. But it is a start. Cities around the world invest in festivals, venues and music infrastructure but this is often coordinated without much civic coordination. A blueprint is needed to further encourage this change, and now is the time to introduce it.

This crisis has demonstrated the power of music and the uniqueness of experiencing it live

This is why we are launching #BetterMusicCities, a campaign to ensure music – in all its forms and functions – is represented and engaged in civic discussions regarding recovery. Relief funding is one thing, but relief will end. More supportive tax, licensing and regulatory infrastructure is needed. Cities need intentional live music policies, aimed at supporting the sector. Venues should be eligible for the same incentives as any other business. Apprenticeship and training schemes must be more widely available. Support should exist to create more sustainable, environmentally friendly venues, festivals and supply chains and reward those who invest in them. Local artists should be mapped and engaged with, especially as local music is the only live music we’ll have for the time being. All cities should have engaged representatives as standard, tasked with supporting their scenes year-round.

To support the campaign, we have written a guide to how cities can better engage with music, called the Music Cities Resilience Handbook. We have also written an open letter then can be downloaded and sent to any city council, mayor or alderman to advocate for music to have a seat at the table in recovery discussions. We will be translating everything in Spanish soon, as well.

This crisis has demonstrated the power of music and the uniqueness of experiencing it live. Policies that have taken this for granted are being exposed, and now is the time to fix it. Join us at


Shain Shapiro is founder and CEO of Sound Diplomacy.

Inform, educate, sustain: Amplifying live’s global impact

There are a number of initiatives across the global music industry exploring, and in many cases, pioneering, solutions to the global crisis we face. We have recognised the need to be good neighbours, stewards and land managers because our businesses do not exist in a vacuum.

We are impacted by, and often subservient to, state and local regulation, an electrical grid, sanitation, paved roads and stable governments to succeed and profit. Without systems to build live music or festival infrastructure on, festivals don’t exist. Without careful land planning and environmental management, music venues do not get built. Our system grinds to a halt.

Recognising this, a number of initiatives are addressing this and positioning our sector within the global sustainable movement. The Music Declares campaign, led by Julie’s Bicycle, is one. The Clean Scene initiative in the electronic music sector is another. Around the world, festivals are becoming increasingly gender equal and promoting fair pay and fair play. Hundreds have joined the Keychange scheme. The multinationals, Live Nation and AEG, both have published sustainability targets across climate action, gender equality and overall sustainability.

But we are also lacking. In the music industry we rarely link our initiatives, our successes and our challenges with the outside world or other sectors. There is no adherence to the global language of sustainability– the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and how we can utilise what we do to support collective sustainability while learning from our neighbours. While we are reliant on urban and rural ecosystems to produce, promote, market and succeed, there is a lack of collaboration across global intergovernmental organisations to utilise music as a tool for sustainability.

In the music industry we rarely link our initiatives, our successes and our challenges with the outside world or other sectors

We believe our business has the potential to be a global leader in sustainable development – an important distinction to the simple concept of sustainability, because it refers to the urgent need to literally rebuild the world’s systems, infrastructure and common practices of day-to-day existence for the long-term sustainable future on planet Earth.

But we need to engage more with the processes and practices that itemise, strategise and audit sustainability around the world. While it is necessary (even mandatory) to deliver no-impact events, operationally, it is equally important to play an influencing role in changing attendee behaviour and demanding more from suppliers and corporate partners. What are the long-term positive impacts that festivals can claim in between event cycles?

When we understand this, we start to unlock the vital role music can play in long-term development as a strategic partner to the municipalities and regions where we operate.

This is why we are advocating for the music industry – particularly the live music sector – to align itself with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals by creating an SDG Music Compact – or an agreement that binds our business – linking our targets and initiatives with the rest of the world.

It is time to merge music with the universal language of sustainability

SDGs represent the first truly global language for sustainability that transcends culture, language and geography, opening up vast opportunities for data collection, categorisation, tracking and reporting. It also provides clear pathways to new issues-based partnerships, supply chain and decision-making that perhaps were previously hidden or difficult to navigate.

Most countries (and cities) around the world have SDG offices – with dedicated budgets – that focus on the most urgent social and environmental issues their specific region is facing. Both the media and fashion sectors have signed their own compacts.

But we lack this collective mind-set, this voice. We are reducing carbon, increasing gender parity and promoting fair pay in our sector, but each action is independent of each other. If we tied them together and created an SDG structure for music, the awareness and impact of our practices, such as Music Demands, will have a far greater reach than our sector alone. We have the opportunity to magnify our voice and impact effectiveness.

We organised an SDG Summit at Reeperbahn Festival on 20 September, as part of the Creative Solutions Summit. This was the first step to seeing SDGs embedded more in music to provide guidance, support and greater global awareness of what we do and why it matters. Because music is more than our industry. Music is our universal language. It is time to merge music with the universal language of sustainability.


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