The Musical Municipalities- Economics of Concert in Local Level Development

– This article has been originally published by Jai Venaik in The Himalayan Times on March 18, 2018.

My grandfather’s diary dated August 21, 1969 penned an interesting account of his time with musical concerts. An exchange student in America, his pockets were always short of cash which he fixed with odd jobs. He recounts his experience from the Woodstock Music Concert held in Bethel, New York on the very date. He was then volunteering for a small sum of $2 a day with the waste management team. It was about 10:00 pm when he realised a familiar tune from his homeland; Ravi Shankar had started playing leaving the crowd awestruck; even rain had started drizzling listening to his music. Just as he dragged the waste basket to collect the last bottle, a man heard him mumbling the notes and cornered him to know more. He offered a handsome $20 for the information to which he gladly accepted. By the night, my grandfather had accumulated over $730 just by dispensing information about the East. He pens and I quote, “Music at the end not only feeds the soul, it feeds the body too.”

The term ‘Music Cities’ is now synonymous not only with music enthusiasts but with the vibrant economies that they foster. The concept initiated in Nashville (USA), music cities are now studied as tools to jump start economies and provide much required finances to aid local level development. Outside the cultural community, there is growing recognition among governments and other stakeholders that Music Cities can deliver significant economic and employment benefits beyond the long-acknowledged cultural and social benefits. While the cultural and social benefits could largely be seen upfront in the form development of music and culture in the domestic homeland through providing an international market and stage to new and upcoming artists, it also forms a global-village representing countries from around the globe. The economic benefits though remain largely unseen behind the gala festival that goes about.

For one, it brings foreign visitors; not in a few hundreds, but thousands. While they bring in a lot of foreign exchange in the country, it also helps boost valuable government coffers. A vibrant music economy drives value for cities in several important ways: job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth. A strong music community has also been proven to attract other industrial investment, along with talented young workers who put a high value on quality of life, no matter their profession.

Music can be a significant driver of economic activity, employment, exports and tax revenue. These impacts derive mainly from direct spending on the production of live music and ticket purchases by local residents and tourists, as well as music-related spending on such things as food, drink, accommodation and transport. Significant economic activity is also created in forming international linkages, attracting foreign investment, spurring domestic economy and other related activities. Beyond these, music generates indirect economic benefits through spending in such areas as media, marketing and promotion and, graphic arts. A study by the music industry organisation UK Music measured the contribution of music to the British economy at £3.8 billion in 2013, with a full £2.2 billion attributed to music exports. The impacts of Nashville’s music cluster were thoroughly examined in the 2013 ‘Nashville Music Industry’ report, which found that the music industry helps create and sustain more than 56,000 jobs within the Nashville area, supports more than $3.2 billion of annual labour income, and contributes $5.5 billion to the local economy for a total output of $9.7 billion.

For cities looking to generate economic benefits from live music, tourist spending is a key part of the equation. Not only does tourist spending represent ‘new’ money to a city, but it also generates additional spending beyond music. When tourists travel to experience live music, whether a concert, music festival or a favourite band in a basement venue, they will spend significantly more on hotels, restaurants meals, bars and other local attractions. Of the approximately nine million tourists who visited Melbourne, Australia in 2013, nearly two million of them were international tourists.

Music can play a powerful role in building a city’s brand. For a select group of cities with the strongest music scenes or deep music heritage, music is a big part of who they are. Think Liverpool, and most people think about The Beatles, Memphis, and music icons like Elvis and Johnny Cash come to mind. Austin’s familiar tagline is ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ Nashville is, simply, ‘Music City’. Other cities are well known as major music centres, though music may not be at the forefront of their brand identity. London, Melbourne, Montreal, New York, Berlin, Bogotá and Toronto are among these ranks. .

What’s in store for Nepal? With the picturesque Himalayan splendour, the stage is almost set and with federalism racing in implementation there is no more the bother of the central government having to do everything. Most entertainment related taxes and policy decisions also lie within the state government’s power to harness their individual creativity. Nepal does not have a dearth of music talent and concerts are not unheard of. Moreover, cities like Pokhara have also renowned street festivals while Lalitpur witnesses the iconic Kartik dance every year. While these tend to be isolated and uncoordinated, a comfortable association of private investment and public policy could turn them into a modern day success story. For there is nothing like music as a means to connect people, bridge linguistic and cultural divides and provide an avenue for identity and expression. Collectively, the music ecosystem generates rich social, cultural and economic benefits.