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Brighton Music Conference collage

INTERNATIONAL INSPIRATION: PT 1 – Music Cities Symposium, Brighton UK

30 Jul

WAM’s CEO Mike Harris recently went on a quick overseas mission to lay the foundations for better championing WA music to international audiences. From these meetings and conferences, a heap of inspiration was gained as to how WA and Perth positions itself in a global music context, amongst other things. With frantically scribbled notes now deciphered, we present a series of ideas Mike encountered during these experiences.


MUSIC CITIES SYMPOSIUM: Brighton, UK, Wednesday 13 May 2015

 “Government’s role is to de-regulate and enable.”


The Music Cities Symposium was a one day event that started life as a single panel discussion intended to be part of The Great Escape 2015, but grew into a beast of its own. And it was a beast: a snarling, witty, positively uplifting and inspiring beast of a day. Without a doubt, in terms of content, the best day of conferencing I’ve ever been to. The only downside was that there was probably two days of content crammed into one and it left very little opportunity to question and discuss in the room.

The day was broken in to many sessions all looking at innovative, inspirational and visionary solutions or responses to cementing in the importance of music in urban environments. The quote at the top, which was in reality the unofficial theme, and when fully articulated read: “Government’s role is to de-regulate and enable; not become operationally involved.”

Instead of breaking this down session by session, as there was ongoing overlap, I am summarising the commentary/content and making observations and noting opportunities coming about from the discussions;


  • In Adelaide the music industry was in a crisis; driven mostly by the advent of pokies moving into pubs which had previously had band rooms. Local radio stations stopped playing local music and the view was that Adelaide was musically on lts last breath.
  • The state government became proactive: they recognised that live music was pivotal to a vibrant city and enshrined this in policy; the Live Music Fund was funded by pokie revenue; Martin Elbourne was engaged as “thinker in residence” and his 49-step plan is being addressed.
  • Importantly they linked music with business and industry development vision, via the agency of the Premier covering dual roles and being fully committed and engaged to music’s key position across all policy making.
  • Adelaide City Council established its Live Music Action Plan to activate and animate its public areas and night time economy and St Paul’s Creative Centre was opened as a co-working space for creative industries, funded by the SA state government
  • The establishment of Musitec industry cluster is another step forward in treating music as an industry. As the SA government was funding traditional industry clusters it was argued that why not include music. Funding therefore came from the Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy. This is marrying music with other industries including science and health to create potential start-ups, run them through a funding accelerator and see where they go…
  • The credo here is: don’t seek to improve on what’s been done. Completely re-imagine what’s possible.
  • “The music industry needs maverick independent operators who operate on the edge, to constantly challenge and extend.” This was the view of Dave Haslam who was part of the original Hacienda in Manchester. His point being that over regulation and adherence to same only leads to a conservative live scene; not one that is game-changing.
  • It is imperative that we support and nurture venues while they are alive, as once they close, or even under real threat, its often too late.
  • Make things happen: make the place you live the place you want to live. [Credited to the Buzzcocks’ manager]
  • To get it right be prepared to make mistakes. Try stuff. Make mistakes. Try again. [Dave Haslam again]
  • Mannheim has the Mannheim Music Model which is credited with establishing the cultural synergy that has energised the city. It has created significant economic and social benefits.
  • Berlin took a different but not necessarily less effective path. It provides start up capital for relevant industries (e.g. Soundcloud). It is said that many come for the vibrant club scene and then find a way to stay in Berlin so look to start up their own business. This, alongside a user friendly and accessible funding structure, provides a unique environment.
  • Quote of the day from someone I’ll just call Nico – “We’re not all smoking marijuana in the Berlin Senate” – his point being that the Senate is connected with the vibrant cultural activity of Berlin; not rampant conservatism.
  • In Berlin, economic impact is secondary to supporting the art: it follows if you get the support right. But it is not how the industry should be judged.
  • Music must organically grow and find its level. Provide support and the environment and allow it to position itself as best fits the local culture.
  • Tax credits! E.g. Louisiana post-Katrina introduced tax credits to encourage artists back to New Orleans. By coupling tax credits with an accessible and flexible funding structure, musicians would have more opportunity to create their music and play their music and develop communities.
  • This quote/comment struck me as important but not in a specific way: Catalans don’t have their own state (he meant independent nation here) so define their culture as their state. As much as anything else, it demonstrates the importance of culture/arts/MUSIC at a holistic level.
  • Groningen! The stats are overwhelming, but needless to say the city has redefined itself as cultural capital with music playing a significant roll. Here goes: Groningen had lots of unused public spaces | make them available to artists and creatives | creative cities attract people | people settle and have families | families attract business and investment (e.g. IBM).
  • The Groningen advice column goes like this: Governments – accept stuff may go wrong; don’t use this as an excuse not to continue supporting creativity | support creative entrepreneurship | marry culture and technology and promote outcomes | invest in festivals to keep them alive (e.g. Eurosonic).

Music Canada launched their Music Cities report at Midem and can be found here – worth a reread, but some aspects are listed below.

The top five elements of a Music City are:

  • artists and musicians
  • a thriving music scene
  • spaces and places
  • audience
  • other music related businesses.

Interestingly the top five above omit a sense of history (Liverpool, Akron, Seattle etc.). This rated the ninth most important factor. “History is bunk” – Henry Ford

Seven benefits of a vibrant music economy:

  • economic impact
  • social and cultural benefits
  • jobs and investment
  • talent attraction and retention
  • tourism
  • social cohesion
  • cultural development

Some important issues arising from the report:

  • governments need to implement music/musician friendly policies
  • simple and single point contacts with government to allow things to happen easily
  • strong political leadership
  • hubs/accelerators/incubators/clusters. Call ‘em what you will. They work.
  • must deal with land use conflicts quickly and effectively
  • education and enterprise to overcome gaps in the business of music.

The above summary probably needs summarising itself as it is quite comprehensive and that is only part of it. So, here goes, in no more than four points:


  • A strong music culture will underpin a city’s economic and social well-being by providing jobs and investment and sense of pride and well-being.
  • Governments need to show a strong will and leadership to support music by removing the barriers (regulatory/land use/availability of spaces/lack of funds) that make it harder of musicians to make and perform their music. Allow it to exist and grow organically by getting out of the way.
  • Musicians and promoters need to back themselves; be prepared to take risks in what they produce; whom they produce it with (collaborations) and how and where they perform it.
  • All of society participate in music and need to get behind music as a key social driver: everyone should ask their municipality (state/territory/canton/autonomous collective) “Please give us a music friendly city”





Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts Australian Government

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.