At Sound Music Cities, we create custom solutions for cities that value music as a key economic driver and want to start, reinvigorate, or grow their music economy, using proven best practices.
We love music of all kinds, and we especially love what it can do for the heart and soul of a city, in addition to regional economies. We’ve been at this for a while, talking to cities and countries around the world about music policy, community relationships, and cultural tourism, learning from the steps forward, and the steps backward. And over the years, we have put together a significant global knowledge base of practical, real-life policy solutions for the most common challenges facing commercial music and entertainment ecosystems.
Three years ago, I worked with Titan Music Group to collect and publish the results of the Austin Music Census, a groundbreaking data-driven assessment of the commercial music industry in Austin. Soon after, we launched the North America Music Cities Best Practice Summit together, an effort that is still going strong. And I discovered that as much as I enjoyed running the city music office in the Live Music Capital of the World, my core passion was helping colleagues in other cities to develop vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable music ecosystems of their own.
I had the pleasure of leading Austin’s music development efforts for seven great years, and that experience taught me that there are fundamental aspects that often get overlooked when working on music policy. The fact is, no matter how savvy you are as an individual or as a policy team, every meaningful policy initiative - regardless of its projected impact - requires partnerships to work. Having solid, trust-based community relationships is non-negotiable. And every voice matters in those conversations.
So our team did a lot of up-close and personal work with venues and neighborhoods over the last decade. We started with an approach like those who had come before us, but after a few years of meetings, a lot of focus groups, and many late nights on porches, patios, and sidewalks with frustrated neighbors, we went back to the drawing board.
And this time we talked to the venues. We talked with sound engineers and to working artists. We talked to fans and elected officials and bartenders and law enforcement and music nonprofits. With this approach, we saw far more home runs than strikes. The end result? A 70% reduction in sound complaints without any significant policy changes.
Our approach wasn’t necessarily about turning down sound levels, or spending millions on new sound systems, but rather connecting with everyone involved: police, elected officials, venue owners and operators, and residents and neighborhoods. We learned that although every stakeholder is different, they all have common traits; and once you identify the threads tying the community together, it’s much easier to find a resolution that works for everyone.
Now, it’s not that all of the initiatives that we started in Austin were huge, game-changing victories right out of the gate. As with any major business undertaking, some initiatives that seemed to look good on paper and in theory just didn’t bring the return on investment that we needed.
But our failures can teach us much as our successes, if we listen. And some of the most important things our team learned were to be unafraid to try new things, even if they weren’t quite perfect; to monitor and record the results, so we could learn how to improve; and to freely share our findings with our community, to help them avoid some of our missteps.
In the coming months, we’ll dive deeper into what a music city is, what music-friendly policy means to us, and we’ll also spotlight folks from across the country who we think are thought leaders in the realm of creating sound, practical solutions for music and entertainment ecosystems. We look forward to hearing your stories and questions, too!