To be or not to be a ‘music city’?

When I started Edinburgh Music Lovers, one of my ambitions was to help Edinburgh become a thriving music city - and look at how a well-supported and marketed music culture can drive economic growth and tourism.

But what exactly is a ‘music city’?

I’ve been researching the concept for several months, exploring questions such as how it works, who needs to be involved, who benefits, and whether it’s a realistic ambition worth exploring for Edinburgh?

In many ways, Edinburgh is already a music city (see my points below!), but I’d argue there’s always room for improvement and the city has huge potential to be even better.

There’s a fair amount to the idea of a ‘music city’, but helpfully, today saw the launch of the Music Cities Manual.

This resource has been created by Sound Diplomacy, an organisation which has been leading the music city movement and advising cities around the world.

In the Music Cities Manual, Sound Diplomacy outline the 13 key indicators of a music city, collated through their experiences advising on music strategies and policies in cities such as London, Manchester, Barcelona, Vancouver and Brisbane.

First things first though.

It’s important to state upfront that Edinburgh has a thriving music scene driven by a variety of long-established promoters, venues, musicians, DJs, radio stations, blogs, shops, labels, studios and so on. A few of them feature in the soon-to-be-updated Inspirations section.

Equally, Edinburgh also has a fantastic music heritage, having hosted everyone from the Stones and Pink Floyd to Led Zep, Bowie and The Clash during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

There’s no doubt, however, that there have been some bumps in Edinburgh’s journey along the way. Especially in the last dozen years or so, with the loss of some key venues* and past licensing restrictions around the audibility of amplified music.

Could/should Edinburgh be a music city?

With the positive elements mentioned above, and the prospect of various new venues** coming through, I feel Edinburgh is currently on an upward curve and well-placed to become a music city.

That’s not forgetting all the other factors in Edinburgh’s favour: its status as a capital city and tourist destination, an international reputation for arts and culture, a relatively affluent and rapidly growing population, a massive student population…

That’s why I believe it’s a realistic ambition worth aiming for - not just for the music scene, but for the city in terms of its economic, social and cultural development.

Which brings me back to Sound Diplomacy’s Music Cities Manual. In it, they outline 13 key indicators of a thriving music policy, as shown below. Further detail on each can be found on the Music Cities Manual site.

  1. Music is an infrastructure - develop a policy

  2. Understand your environment - asset map it

  3. Music and non-music people unite - create a coalition

  4. Respect and celebrate your past - use your heritage

  5. Everyone loves music - use yours for tourism

  6. Use music to achieve sustainable development

  7. We all need a place to develop - support venues

  8. Create an entrepreneurial environment for business

  9. Prioritise music education across young and old - engagement is key

  10. Support your night-time economy

  11. Prioritise affordability - humanise your buildings and land

  12. Recognise how big we are if we work together - be international

  13. Music is central to our health and wellbeing

I’ve been discussing this music city concept with Sound Diplomacy for a while now, and looking at how EML can work with others to explore which of these steps are relevant to Edinburgh.

With this in mind, we’re staging an event in Edinburgh with Sound Diplomacy in June. Details to be announced soon, follow us on @weareEML to find out more

Meantime, let me know what you think of the ‘music city’ concept in the comments below.

e*The Venue, Picture House, Electric Circus, Studio 24 etc

** Leith Theatre; the refurbished Old Dr Bells Baths; the opening of Rose Theatre; the proposed new IMPACT Centre concert hall in St Andrew Square; a grassroots venue planned by the NEKO Trust; the redevelopment of the Ross Bandstand etc