‘Every City Should Have A Music Office’

Shain Shapiro is the founder of Sound Diplomacy, which is based in London and has offices in Barcelona and Berlin. He and his team are dedicated to convincing policy and other decision makers of music’s value. Somehow, a lot of the time, the music industry has to be convinced of the same thing.

Grassroots music venues in Europe are in dire straits, generally speaking. For most, the main source of income is non-music related: day-time customers, food and beverage, brands, that sort of thing.

– Shain Shapiro

Music is often the tool to influence, the décor so to speak. In many European countries, grassroots venues couldn’t even survive without public funding.

“What frustrates me about our business is that we’re often not as forward thinking as I want us to be,” Shapiro said. “We seem to drown in similar debates. We define the word value, without realizing that it may mean something different to someone else – and that their definition can be lucrative for us, if we paid attention to it. But we’re usually so focused on paying the bills that we don’t think about how our work could be valued by people outside of the industry.”

Shapiro is looking into how music impacts city policy or infrastructure as a whole. “We’re all using these spaces, which were designed by an architect, approved by a planning consultant, went through a process at the city council and so on and so forth. The music industry comes in way down the line and just takes it for what it is, and starts using it.

“Why can’t we go in at the beginning and have influence on the whole process. Why are we just the end user?”

Some of Europe’s largest development sites are located in London, and Shapiro wants to make sure venues are included in them from the get-go.

“I can spend my entire life trying to save a venue. Or I can meet the person who owns the land, convince them that a music venue is valuable,” he said. Shapiro is testing a way he developed of measuring the value of music in a certain place. He eventually wants to be able to measure the value of music per resident. He needs data for that, and the music industry isn’t helping.

Figuring out consumption data, getting the relevant players to reveal – even anonymously – who’s listening to music in a particular place is challenging in the current industry structure. Shapiro aims to look at the music consumption patterns of different neighborhoods and compare them to the existing music infrastructure in that neighborhood.

That way one can argue in front of developers or city councils that there is an ecosystem deficiency, which in turn means that economic value is lost, not just in taxes.

“Four-fifths of the jobs for 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK are nighttime economy-related. Combine that with our infrastructural needs – schools, transport, utilities, services – and you get an economic map,” Shapiro said. “I want to prove that if you spend a pound on music for every 18- to 24-year-old that lives in a certain catchment area, over the next few years they will generate 2 or 3 pounds back.”

According to Shapiro, “the music industry doesn’t want to have this conversation. We’re sometimes over-obsessed with copyright. We’re obsessed with how much people are paying for our stuff, rather than how music’s ubiquity can be used to increase the value of our business for all of us, up and down the value chain.“ For music to be ubiquitous in the first place, it needs to become easy and inexpensive to open venues. Shapiro hails Chicago’s automated permit system as a positive example.

“Every city, town and region should have a music policy, a music office,” he said. “And we need other sectors joining us more at events and gatherings. The more cross-pollination we have, the more bridges we build that will improve the industry 10, 20, 30 years down the line.”

One sector suitable for “cross-pollination” is the tourism industry. Advertising and sponsorship are other obvious ones but, according to Shapiro, music has a role even when building a well in Africa.

Again, it’s about thinking outside to box – or simply not being overly modest – when it comes to assessing music’s value. Any combination of industries may generate additional revenues with the help of music, and the music industry should participate in them.

If it did, it “should be worth double of what it’s worth now, if everybody got paid what they deserve,” Shapiro said.

And he adds: “We just need to give a shit. We need to realize that if we don’t change, things will get worse. And if we lose our grassroots infrastructure, we’ll all be worse off, both top-down and bottom-up.”