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Music policy think tank launched for Euro cities

The Music Cities Network and the Center for Music Ecosystems have announced the launch of new think tank, the European Music Policy Exchange (EMPE).

EMPE, which follows an award via the EU-funded MusicAIRE scheme, is billed as the first think tank to integrate and enhance the role that music plays across EU city priorities. It will cover jobs and skills, education, climate action, infrastructure, tourism, the night time economy, diversity and inclusion and strategic planning.

A number of best practices will be developed between European cities and international experts through a series of eight themed roundtables held between September 2022 and April 2023, in partnership with Reeperbahn Festival, Eurosonic Noorderslag and other supporting partners. The findings will inform the publication of the first EU Music Cities Policy Handbook to offer solutions, best practices and frameworks to incorporate music into the heart of local policy.

“It is important that music be linked, explicitly, to the most pressing challenges we face in our cities and places,” says Dr Shain Shapiro, founder and executive director for the Center for Music Ecosystems. “How music can support climate action or welcome immigrants is just as important as how we can create a robust music industry that is fair and open to everywhere.

“We believe cities hold the power to creating better frameworks and we look forward working with the Music Cities Network, our partners and cities, to making this happen.”

“We believe that a holistic approach and interlinked mindsets are key to future-proofing music cities”

Two of the roundtables will be held in person – Reeperbahn on 21 September and Eurosonic in January – and the rest online.

The project aims to include representatives from cities in every EU country and the UK by the time of its culmination in April 2023. Participating cities to date include Aarhus (DK), Amsterdam (NL), Aveiro (PT), Barcelona (ES), Bergen (NOR), Berlin (GER), Brno (CZ), Brussels (BE), Cortona (IT), Gothenburg (SE), Groningen (NL), Guimares (PT), Hamburg (GER), Hannover (DE), Kalmar (SE), Lausanne (CH), Leiria (PT), Liepāja (LT), London (UK), Manchester (UK), Mannheim (DE), Nantes (FR), Norrköping (SE), Paris (FR), Reykjavik (IS), Sydney (AUS), Tallinn (EE), Valletta (MT) and Veszprem (HU).

“We believe that a holistic approach and interlinked mindsets are key to future-proofing music cities,” adds Music Cities Network MD Lena Ingwersen. “That is why we are very excited to launch the European Music Policy Exchange together with the Center for Music Ecosystems to be able to bridge the gaps between the city’s music scenes and policy makers.”

The roundtables will be led by the Music Cities Network, the Center for Music Ecosystems and co-facilitated with creative specialist Kaospilots, each focused on a specific policy area. Two will be held in person (Reeperbahn and Eurosonic) and the rest online.

Each policy area will comprise a chapter of the handbook, written by the Center for Music Ecosystems. The handbook and all findings from the roundtables will be published in 2023 and made available to all cities and communities.

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New Colombia stadium tipped to spark tourism boom

Colombia’s new Arena Del Rio will attract an additional 1.4 million visitors a year to the city of Barranquilla, says Center for Music Ecosystems director Shain Shapiro.

The 50,000-cap project, which is slated to open in 2026, is being developed by UMusic Hotels, Two Ways Stadium and AECOM, with features set to include a retractable mobile lawn, a luxury 500 room hotel, three auditoriums and a club.

Billed as the first fully-integrated entertainment development in Latin America, additional attractions will include both a music and sports museum, a virtual reality park, 350 suites, 100 apartments, 120 offices, 100 commercial premises to operate, bars, clubs and restaurants, and a four-port marina.

“This is a great project that has a catalytic scope to think about music, sports and culture as business opportunities in Barranquilla”

Shapiro, founder and chair of music market development agency Sound Diplomacy, estimated the complex will generate US$97 million per annum in tourism revenue, equating its socioeconomic impact to “doing 3.5 carnivals a year”.

“This is a great project that has a catalytic scope to think about music, sports and culture as business opportunities in Barranquilla,” Shapiro told a panel event, reported El Heraldo. “In the last two years, the music industry grew by 18.4% worldwide and that generated an economic impact for nightlife.”

Arena Del Rio president Tatiana Orozco said that infrastructure improvements would be necessary, given the development will more than double the number of visitors to Colombia’s fourth largest city.

“We have to prepare ourselves as a city, there are enormous challenges in terms of training human talent, airport and road infrastructure that connects us with the other cities of the Caribbean region,” he added. “To build it, much more than bricks are needed.”


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Sound Diplomacy appoints Rob Hain as global CEO

Music market development agency Sound Diplomacy has appointed experienced executive and board member Rob Hain as global chief executive.

Hain, who is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, brings strong connections to clients across the country, including the government of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Tourism and cities and regions including Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton.

The move sees Sound Diplomacy founder Shain Shapiro switch to the role of chairman.

“As a board member and chairman, he knows what makes us tick”

“Rob was an early client of Sound Diplomacy and has been a trusted adviser since Jordi Puy, now CEO of Unison Rights, and I created the company in 2013,” says Shapiro. “As a board member and chairman he knows what makes us tick and by moving to the role of global CEO, Rob frees Jordi to continue growing Unison Rights, in which Sound Diplomacy has a substantial investment, and allows me to spend more time with the recently established non-profit think tank, The Center for Music Ecosystems.”

Starting out as a night-time economy specialist, Sound Diplomacy is known for pioneering the idea of the ‘music city’ and has grown into an increasingly influential voice on cultural economics. It works with a range of clients including cities, global agencies, hospitality and leisure venues, investment managers and property developers to help them identify, quantify, and amplify opportunities to drive resilient and sustainable development, while also realising the economic value of their assets.

The company’s current clients include Society of London Theatre (SOLT), The Organization of American States (OAS), The Earls Court Development Company, Decide DeKalb in Metro Atlanta, Arena del Rio in Barranquilla, Colombia, UMusic Hotels and National Music Centre in Canada.

Shapiro looks at the role of music cities in 2022 here.


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Ben Lovett talks Venue Group’s US ambitions

Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett has told IQ about his first move into the US market with the opening of two new venues in Huntsville, Alabama.

Lovett is CEO of Venue Group, which operates London’s Omeara (320-cap), Lafayette (600-cap) and The Social (250-cap). Last year, he announced plans to expand his independent empire with the 8,000-cap Orion Amphitheater in Huntsville, Alabama, scheduled to open in May 2022.

“It probably seems quite an exotic shift from London at first glance, but there was a whole sequence of events that led me to Huntsville,” explains Lovett. “It actually started with the London mayor’s office, funnily enough, and Shain Shapiro from [music market development consultancy] Sound Diplomacy, who did the whole audit about the night-time economy and why we need to keep culture in the centre of our cities, so they don’t end up becoming just a big bunch of flats and offices.

“We met at the launch of Omeara five years ago, then [Shapiro] did a similar study for the city of Huntsville, which is now the biggest city in Alabama. They have lots of great jobs and lots of people live there, but there’s nothing to do, and the conclusion was that they wanted to build a big outdoor amphitheatre.

“They put a request for people to come in to present their vision – it was like an episode of X Factor. And we were like, ‘If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to build something remarkable.’ And they liked the sound of that, so they gave us the contracts and we’ve spent the last three years designing this thing.”

Details of its 13-15 May opening weekend celebration, The First Waltz, were confirmed earlier this week. Acts will include Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Emmylou Harris, John Paul White, St Paul and the Broken Bones, and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes.

The idea is to build one of the best new venues in the world

The scheme is being managed by Huntsville Venue Group, a partnership between Lovett and industry veterans Ryan Murphy, Mike Luba, Don Sullivan, Jeff Kicklighter and Al Santos.

“The idea is to build one of the best new venues in the world,” declares Lovett, who reveals plans are afoot to complement the project with another ‘Omeara-sized’ venue in the city.

“One of the things that we learned was that you need to build a whole ecosystem,” he says. “There’s no point having just one big venue so bands from out of town come and play a handful of times, you’ve got to nurture local grassroots talent.”

The New York-based Brit suggests there is still much more to come on that front.

“We are going to try and figure out another venue in London before too long, and we’re having some interesting conversations with other cities in America,” he adds. “I’ve spent so much of my adult life touring America and I’m such a big fan of this country; I want to try and see where else we can build great venues here.”

Venue Group has offices in London, New York, Huntsville, Alabama and Austin. And the 35-year-old musician and Communion co-founder, who invested in D2F startup Planet over the summer, suggests the fallout from the cessation of touring during the pandemic has only strengthened his resolve.

“That hasn’t slowed us down,” he insists. “If anything, it’s actually made us more bullish – the reason being that we saw every man and his dog try and figure out a way to bring shows into people’s living rooms, and it just didn’t work. So if 18 months can’t break down the bond of the live music experience between fans and artists, then you better believe I’m going to go all in on this thing.”

Check out next week for part two of our interview with Lovett.


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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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Sound Diplomacy: Your guide to becoming a music city

To celebrate its fifth birthday, Sound Diplomacy – the music market development consultancy known for pioneering the idea of the ‘music city’ – has created a video that aims to explain how music impacts the places we live, and how both communities and the industry can better support it.

Founded in 2013, Sound Diplomacy now has offices in London, Barcelona and Berlin, and has over the past five years worked in more than 40 countries to bridge the gap between music, music policy and urban planning. Its current roster of clients includes the Walton Family Foundation, United Nations, Mayor of London, city of Cardiff, Lend Lease, Legal & General, German Haus at SXSW, city of Brisbane, city of Lausanne, city of Barcelona, South Arts USA and the Canadian Independent Music Association.

Future plans include publishing a night-time economy guide in April, in partnership with Tallinn Music Week, and launching a new Night Time Economy conference in South America later this year.

“It’s been five amazing, wild and adventurous years,” says Sound Diplomacy founder Shain Shapiro. “We have been lucky to have worked all over the world introducing the role of music in urban planning and public policy. But this is only the beginning.

“Every city must have a music policy to support talent development, music engagement and quality of life. We will ensure this happens.”


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