Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sat Dec 29th 2007 at 12:15pm UTC

Urban Sound System

Broken_social_scene_045_copy

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 sceneĀ  makes good centsĀ  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.

Richard Florida
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.”

MUSICAL MOMENTUM

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.

7 Responses to “Urban Sound System”

  1. Michael Wells Says:

    I think the story about Nashville is not only as a recording center for the genres you mention, but its other music as well — the Nashville Jazz Workshop, or the symphony which just built a new symphony hall and hired Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero from the Eugene, Oregon Symphony. (What is it about Eugene? The last conductor, Marion Alsop, now leads the Baltimore Symphony as well as one in the UK). All of these musics and musicians influence each other, in ways large and small.

    Is your research looking beyond pop into broader music scenes? For example, Portland is noted for its indie-rock scene, but has a strong jazz & blues scene, folk/bluegrass, decent symphony & opera and groups such as Portland Baroque Orchestra, Chamber Music Northwest festival, Third Angle “new music” and lots of others. Local/international favorite Pink Martini plays rhumba, camp hits and their own songs in multiple languages.

    I think you’re right about the interplay and “thick job markets” but that the influence is probably broader than what’s popular with kids at the moment. I’ve long thought that the folk revival of the early 60’s made the rock of the late ’60’s possible, because it taught so many musicians to actually play guitar. Listen to the three chord strumming of ’50’s Elvis vs. the guitars of Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Bloomfield in the ’60’s and you hear the debt popular music owes the blues. Or follow the incredible journey of the Beatles through the musical universe.

  2. RF Says:

    Michael – In the project, we will deal with all genres across the 20th and 21sct centuries but focus on blues influenced genres, I think, in the mid-20th through early 21st centuries.

    Your point about folk (and I would add country and bluegrass) is well taken. As a guitarist, who started playing in the mid 1960s, I was actually unaware of their influence on playing and …. on my own playing. I was of course a big fan of Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, Page and Johnny Winter (who’s fade from the public ear is tragic). I never realized how influenced they were by these other traditions. Hendrix spent a good deal of time in Nashville and then in the Village around folkies.

  3. Mike Rocha Says:

    I read your article a few times to take it all in. I’ve entrenched myself in the music industry in Toronto as a music producer and keep as up to date as possible with it. I’ve never before read about analyzing music’s effect on regional economies since the people within the music industry are constantly trying to analyze the inverse: the respective regional economy’s effect on the music, and more specifically how to make music profitable for someone in an artistically creative industry where integrity is key to being taken seriously.

    To the typical independent musician that I work with, associating with a corporation usually equals disaster. Feist’s association with apple computers has provided the kindling for many of her die-hard hands to toss out her “indie”-credibility. It’s a very hard decision to make for an artist as there is nothing they fear more than being labeled as a “sell-out.”

    Since integrity for the artistic community is of utmost value it is easy to understand why large corporations, such as the ones you listed, would want to associate and piggy-back on their integrity; unfortunately, most of these associations result in the music scene being crushed. This happens in many ways, but the most frequent way is because the rent is driven too high by the infiltration of high paying businesses that want to be associated with a region.

    Musicians may be cool, but they are also poor. This gentrification has happened many times in Toronto. Yorkville has completed its transformation, Liberty Village is nearly there, and Kensington Market has a big bulls-eye on it.

    I might be the perfect example of this effect. I’m 24 and my wife and I are fortunate enough to be living in downtown Toronto, but only because we are currently residents of University of Toronto’s subsidized student family housing, where she is working on her master’s degree. When our term is up here, we will be forced to move out of the downtown core and into a region of the city where there is “no scene”. My studio is still located in downtown Toronto, but on a whim that may be forced to relocate out of it’s hip area if the rent is forced up. This is the main reason why artistically creative groups share an anti-corporate sentiment.

  4. Sathish Bala Says:

    great read. i produce desiFEST – largest south asian music festival in toronto. This year we are also launching desiFEST in montreal and vancouver. Both of these cities have growing significantly over the last few years and we feel there is a “scene” that is now ready for this type of fusion music. if you are interested, i can keep you posted on our progress. it is exciting to be the first national south asian music festival.

  5. Paul Ipolito Says:

    Toronto had a very vibrant scene in the late 70’s through the mid-80’s. The clubs were plentiful and many great local bands were busy.Every important group worldwide would visit. The city had a feeling that it truly was at the center of a great thing.Of course, everyone believed that New York City was the true destination, and they would head there at the first opportunity.

  6. kristen Says:

    i have a question. do u sing country music? u can email my back at kbrienzi@yahoo.com thanks.

  7. Deep Says:

    Back in the 1970’s, talks of separation and acts by the FLQ, scared many corporations, particularly the financial sector. Many companies moved their Canadian headquarters from Montreal to Toronto. Since those days, Montreal has been turning itself into the “anti-Toronto”. Focusing on creative and artistic economies, showing little interest in being a financial center. The city is home to a whole variety of artistic innovation. Cirque du Solei began as a street performance in Montreal. Every summer the city has become Le Ville de Festivals. A stroll down St Catherine’s during the summer, you’re bound to see a whole slew of different types of artistic performers. Even in the winter, people are not afraid to go out.

    The fact that the city is a multi-cultural city, a city where both Anglophones and Francophones live side by side, enables the city to attract a diverse array of individuals.