My new Globe and Mail column on music scenes is here. A short snippet below, the whole kit-and-kaboodle after the jump.
Something that has struck me for a while is the vibrancy of the music scene in Canada's three big cities. Feist and Broken Social Scene in Toronto, Arcade Fire in Montreal and the New Pornographers in Vancouver are just the most obvious examples of performers who not only have hit the proverbial "big time" but are also critics' darlings, with rave reviews in major music publications. Arcade Fire leader Win Butler recently shared the cover of Spin with Bruce Springsteen and Feist is a clear favourite in the Grammys, with nominations for best new artist, best female pop vocal performance for the song 1234 and best pop vocal album for The Reminder.
What's going on? Does all this signal that Canada's big three are on the verge of becoming music meccas? And does it say anything about their economic potential? As part of a new project on the music industry and its impact on regional economies, I worked with Kevin Stolarick, a University of Toronto colleague at the Martin Prosperity Institute, as well as Charlotta Mellander of our Prosperity Institute of Scandinavia and Scott Jackson, a doctoral student at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., to chart the evolution of popular music scenes and what they mean for regional economies. Our findings suggest there's good news coming.
SOCIAL SCIENCE: UNDERSTANDING HOW INNOVATION AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY GO HAND IN HAND
Why making the scene makes good cents for the rest of us
Artists are free to live and work almost anywhere, yet they tend to gravitate to places where they can rub shoulders. Who cares? Anyone interested in fostering conditions that lead to prosperity.
December 29, 2007
Something that has struck me for a while is the vibrancy of the music scene in Canada's three big cities. Feist and Broken Social Scene in Toronto, Arcade Fire in Montreal and the New Pornographers in Vancouver are just the most obvious examples of performers who not only have hit the proverbial "big time" but are also critics' darlings, with rave reviews in major music publications.
Arcade Fire leader Win Butler recently shared the cover of Spin with Bruce Springsteen and Feist is a clear favourite in the Grammys, with nominations for best new artist, best female pop vocal performance for the song 1234 and best pop vocal album for The Reminder.
What's going on? Does all this signal that Canada's big three are on the verge of becoming music meccas? And does it say anything about their economic potential?
As part of a new project on the music industry and its impact on regional economies, I worked with Kevin Stolarick, a University of Toronto colleague at the Martin Prosperity Institute, as well as Charlotta Mellander of our affiliated Prosperity Institute of Scandinavia and Scott Jackson, a doctoral student at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., to chart the evolution of popular music scenes and what they mean for regional economies. Our findings suggest there's good news coming.
Music scenes provide a useful lens through which to better understand why innovation and economic activity continue to cluster in today's global economy. Their clustering is puzzling because music-making requires little, if anything, in the way of physical input (such as iron ore or coal) to succeed, and they don't generate economies of scale.
Because musical and artistic endeavours require little more than small groups to make their final products, you would think that musicians should be able to live anywhere they want.
Music scenes have every reason to "fly apart" and spread our geographically, especially in this age of the Internet and social media. But they don't. Instead, they concentrate and cluster in specific cities and regions.
WHAT'S IN A SCENE
What exactly is a scene? When it comes to music, the term "scene" derived from the early crossroads urban centres where rural black and white musicians began to migrate and then combine with producers and studio owners to produce remarkable new musical genres. New Orleans had jazz, Nashville, country, Memphis, soul, Chicago, the blues, and Detroit, Motown, hard-edged rock (Mitch Ryder, MC5, Iggy Pop, Kid Rock, the White Stripes) and techno.
Scenes are basically vehicles for producing, consuming and improving products - and they're responsible for creating experiences too. They represent "modes of organizing cultural production and consumption," according to Terry Clark and his associates at the University of Chicago.
The real key to understanding a scene, he argues, lies in the way "collections of amenities and people serve to foster certain shared values and tastes, certain ways of relating to one another and legitimating what one is doing or not doing."
Scenes are to music what Silicon Valley is to the high-tech industry - a vehicle for bringing together highly skilled talent, sophisticated consumers, cultural gatekeepers who identify new trends, economic infrastructure such as state-of-the-art recording studios and leading venues, and business moguls who take those trends to market in a concentrated physical and geographic space.
THREE CLEAR TRENDS
But music scenes, our research uncovers, have evolved dramatically over the past three or four decades and continue to do so. When Scott Jackson and I tracked the locations of musicians and musical groups across 31 key music scenes in the United States from 1970 to 2004, we identified three clear trends.
First, there is an increasing concentration and specialization in music. The proportion of American musicians living across these 31 metro regions increased from around half (52.5 per cent) in 1970 to nearly two-thirds (63.5 per cent) in 2004.
But one region stood head and shoulders above the rest. In 1970, Nashville was a minor centre for country music. By 2004, only New York and Los Angeles, both huge cities, housed a greater number of musicians.
Nashville's rise is even more impressive when you look at its location quotient - that is, the number of musicians compared with its total population. In 1970, Nashville was not even among the top five regions on this measure. By 2004, it was the national leader with nearly four times the U.S. average.
The extent of its growth was so significant that when Mr. Jackson and I charted the growth in location quotients from 1970 to 2004, we found that Nashville's was the only one that went up. It had, in effect, sucked up all the growth in the industry by expanding its reach from country to all musical genres, particularly rock and pop.
The second is the decline of crossroads scenes such as New Orleans, Memphis and Detroit.
New Orleans, the home of Louis Armstrong and the birth of jazz, was in decline even before the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.
I visited Memphis recently. It is a centre of musical history - the home of the legendary Sun and Stax studios, the place that produced and recorded Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Al Green, Roy Orbison and many others. While I was there, we discussed using this history to attract retiring baby boomers to the region.
During my luncheon speech, my wife, Rana, sat next to Justin Timberlake's stepfather. Unlike Elvis, the original "king of rock" who lived in his Memphis mansion, Graceland, all his life, Justin had moved on to make his career in L.A.
During our Christmas holiday with Rana's family in Detroit last year, we ran into Kid Rock's original producer, who told us that he and others were shutting their studios and moving out of town.
The third trend is the promising one. Our research has found that, although the music industry is beset by consolidation and concentration around the big commercial scenes - New York, Los Angeles and Nashville - there is a counter-trend brewing: Smaller, more specialized music scenes are also flourishing in other locations such as college towns and even in some smaller, less urban places.
In my book The Rise of the Creative Class, I noted the connection between independent music scenes and high-tech industry in such places as San Francisco, Seattle and Austin. San Francisco was a centre for musical innovation and experimentation in the early 1960s, producing bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, with a young Janis Joplin, long before Silicon Valley was a household name.
Seattle is the birthplace of grunge and the place that gave rise to Nirvana and Pearl Jam as well as Microsoft and Amazon. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was so inspired by Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix that he built a major cultural institution to honour him, the Experience Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry.
Austin, the home of Dell computers and dozens of small software firms, is the centre of a thriving independent music scene spawned by Willie Nelson and kept alive by bands such as Spoon, as well as being home to the South by Southwest festival. Along the running paths that encircle downtown Austin stands a statute honouring the late local product, blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Now Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., and Omaha, Neb., (home of financial genius Warren Buffet) are also home to rising music scenes and vibrant economies.
Music combines with technology and business trends to put these places on the map. It reflects their openness to new ideas, new people and new sounds. If you really want to see entrepreneurs in action, go talk to local musicians. They have to put their band together, get gigs, market their songs, promote themselves, set up tours, manage budgets and meet payroll.
The places where these music scenes flourish have the underlying commercial ecosystem that is open to new ideas and can mobilize real resources around the market opportunities they signal. And as one of my former students once put it, music is the best way to market a region. Creative people don't like marketing slogans. But they do identify with a city's sound - what he called its "audio identity."
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are in a unique position to benefit from their musical momentum. They are big metropolises with a legacy of artistic and cultural innovation, great universities and openness to diversity. Plus, while they are getting more expensive, they remain far more affordable than New York, L.A. or San Francisco.
In a study of Montreal's creative economy I conducted with Kevin Stolarick and consultant Lou Musante a few years ago, we could already see the relocation of musicians from around North America to take advantage of the city's historic and cultural heritage, openness and affordable real estate. Just as BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is a spinoff of the University of Waterloo, Arcade Fire is a McGill spinoff; and just as Stanford University pulls in the global talent that fuels Silicon Valley, McGill and Montreal attracted Win Butler from his boyhood home in Houston.
What this means for the future is anybody's guess, but mine is that
it signals the rise of regional ecosystems that are not only open to
new sounds and new ideas, but have the size, scale and commercial oomph
to retain key talent and turn their ideas into global commercial
successes. Once music scenes of this scale get going, they produce a
logic and momentum of their own and signal that more entrepreneurship
is on the way.
Richard Florida teaches at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and is academic director of its Martin Prosperity Institute. He also founded The Creative Class Group, a consulting firm (creativeclass.com) in Washington, D.C., and wrote the bestselling books The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class. His column appears monthly in Focus.