“There’s none of the ‘how can I book a band?’ or any of that, it’s a different kind of thing,” tells Shain Shapiro, co-founder of Music Cities Convention. It’s an event making its way to Melbourne this month after sparking conversations of change within the music industry in Washington, Berlin, Memphis and more since it was conceived a few years ago.
He describes it as a “convening of best practices and thinking”, which involves people in the industry from all across the globe coming together and learning from one another across two days of debate and conversation.
“There’s no other real objective to it, other than just get as many people in a room as possible to complain or be really excited about things, and we learn from that,” he explains.
“What we’re trying to do is embed music into other city policies. For music to thrive, we have to understand its role in how cities work – from urban planning to regeneration to health and social care to touring and industry development, and all those types of things.”
Music Cities is trying to get people to view music in a new light. “We tend to see that venue closing and think, ‘Oh, shit, everything’s going wrong.’ And that may not be the case,” Shapiro says.
“If we look at it as an urban planning issue and a city issue, then we can make music fair. We’re fighting for more sustainability, not more stardom, in that sense.
“I think if we valued land in a different way, ie, the value of the building is affected by what happens inside it. We need to completely re-order how we value land; that’s one of the things that the music industry loses sight of.
“That’s one of the main reasons why venues close, because venues are not the most valuable way to use land. With modern technology, there’s solutions where you can have residential and venues in the same place and make it work for everyone.”
“Melbourne is seen globally as a thriving place for music."
That’s why Music Cities takes a different approach when curating panels and speakers, instead of just getting promoters, managers, label rep, etc in a room together. “My goal is for non-music people to take interest, because I don’t want to preach to the choir all the time, and we are seeing general policy people, urban planning people and that kind of stuff show interest in the event because they’re starting to think, ‘Music is niche, but it’s important.’ It’s one of those things that if it’s not looked at strategically, then we can lose it, or it can piss people off,” he laughs.
Among the hectic schedule will be a panel with developers as well as a few new elements they’re testing. “We’re trialling something called My Music Cities. We’re getting six different people – one from each continent – to tell their story of music’s role in their development.
“We have Brian Ritchie from Violent Femmes, and the head of culture from the province of Bogota and Colombia, and a big music promoter in China, so we’re doing that and we thought we’d try to create bit more personal storytelling side to it that we’ve never done before.”
There’ll be a presentation on the role of music versus the role of sport and how they're both promoted and presented from a city perspective, and a close look into numerous censuses across the globe, including a recent Melbourne one that showcased booming results.
“Melbourne has a history of having a very forward-thinking approach to music policy, from a city and state perspective,” Shapiro says on why the city was selected for the next event.
“Melbourne has taken music seriously for a long time; it doesn’t get everything right, no city does, but the fact you have a formal music policy that’s audited every year, there’s people responsible for it, there’s a lot of debates and thinking that goes into the role of music in the city, is what kind of attracted us. We’re very impressed with a lot of things that happen in Melbourne.
“Melbourne is seen globally as a thriving place for music, across all sectors.”
The Melbourne event (“the biggest one we’ve ever done”) is just a small part in what Shapiro and co hope becomes a long-term conversation across the globe, and he emphasises the importance of a big picture standpoint.
“The music industry have been focused on its inner-definition of values, so when we define the word ‘value’, it’s usually this much per stream versus that much per stream, or you pay an artist this much versus that much, and we sometimes unintentionally ignore the external or outer value that music has on society, on making people happy, on creating an experience people will remember for the rest of their lives.
“Because these things just happen, we kind of forget they’re not renewable resources – music can disappear from a place if there’s no education, there’s no music in schools, if there’s shitty licensing laws and so and so forth.
“What we’re trying to do is just have a facts-based, long-term conversation about what is the role of music.”
Music Cities Convention will take place from 19 - 20 April across Arts Centre Melbourne and Deakin Edge in Melbourne. You can find out more information via their website.