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The Music and Venues Piece of a City’s Planning Puzzle – An Interview with Shain Shapiro

When Shain Shapiro, the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, took the TEDxBerkleeValencia stage in Spain last year, he began with a simple yet huge question, “So what if music – all of it — disappeared? It didn’t exist,” he then paused, “Think about it.”

It’s hard to even imagine. All our music — gone. It’s like asking someone to stop breathing. If music is truly essential to us as humans, why is it not a bigger part of the conversation when it comes to planning our cities as they grow and change?

When the systems that make a city run efficiently and make it a desirable place in which to live, but historically and habitually disregards the systems and the pathways to music, it’s a loss for the citizens, the ecosystems, and for future generations.

The Music Cities Summit, which takes place Saturday, May 7 as part of this year’s Canadian Music Week, will be a gathering of systems-oriented people, from city planners to those in the music industry like Shapiro. The goal during the course of the one-day conference is to have discussions on best practices, exchange ideas and data. To collaborate on developing a framework for what it takes to activate a music-oriented city plan and all its parts.

Referencing his TED Talk and his position as the co-founder of The Music Cities Convention, I asked Shapiro what he had experienced since last year in terms of music city strategies. Had progress been made in incorporating music systems into plans for innovation, housing, tourism, city branding, making cities more international, and improving the quality of life?

“That’s a really, really big question,” he answered. “The topic is more known now and in certain circles. Music in this regard is understood, but in others, we’re still at the beginning of the process.”

To be fair, this music cities initiative has only been going for a year. And Shapiro has seen some definite improvements since his talk in Valencia last year, especially in the areas of outward policies, including marketing and branding, with progress to be made in the area of regulatory affairs. 

With each convention, and there have been several already, the momentum grows. So far, over 40 cities have requested to host a Music Cities Convention, “Which we find amazing. I do believe that most of them are starting to realise: to retain and attract talent and compete globally, music must factor into the city’s policy makeup.”

The goods derived from these conventions are delivered in the form of reporting, insights and roadmaps, including the recent “The Mastering of a Music City” report.

Produced by IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and Music Canada, the nearly 100-page guide covers the key elements it takes to be a music city, the myriad of benefits, the need for supportive policies and the process for developing an effective music advisory panel. Other chapters focus on tourism, music accelerators, engaging the audience and community, and the list goes on.

It’s no easy task, but one that has many city councils and municipalities have made a priority as they evolve city planning.

“When one creates and develops a city, there’s so many things to deal with – street lamps, sewage, paving, lighting etc.,” Shapiro explained. “Music is one part of it, but planning, as I’m becoming more enamoured by the practice, is this never-ending, unsolvable puzzle.  I do believe slowly but surely, music is becoming one piece in that puzzle, where in the past it would not have even been ‘on the board’ so to speak.”

He also acknowledges that those in the music industry, in order to have productive conversations and make progress, need to learn the language of city government and their practices. “Sometimes we all feel like we deserve something without asking why and for whom. Musicians, like any other workers, are integral to the success of a locality’s exchequer.  They make money. They pay taxes.  We believe that we need to better communicate music as a sector, but on the flip side, music, as a sector, does need to be able to have a more apolitical, agnostic and supportive discussion about its value outside of our sector.”

Also in the works is an accessible data warehouse that collects and stores metrics, statistics, insights and findings from city-to-city; an essential form of communication and tool for progress. At the last Music Cities Convention, Shapiro made a commitment to that project.

“I hope that becomes this shared database tool; that’s one of its objectives,” he stated, while pointing out the challenges. “Each city handles data differently. There are good tools to understand the economic realities facing artists, I’d say, but there’s little knowledge to music’s total impact, per resident. That’s a question we’re working on.”

At the Summit, Shapiro will be part of another growing conversation with music city ties: the rapid pace of music venue closures coinciding with developers and city planners who don’t include them in expansion and building plans.

The Planning Panel: Agent of Change (PART I) Presented in Cooperation with Music Cities Convention,” will also include Alison Wenham, CEO, AIM Association of Independent Music Ltd.; Jo Dipple, CEO, UK Music; Mark Davyd, Founder & CEO, Music Venue Trust; and Paul Broadhurst, Senior Cultural Strategy Officer, Greater London Authority.

According to Shapiro, this panel plans to discuss the progress that’s been made since Venues Day in London last October, when London’s Mayor Boris Johnson put the Agent of Change principle into action. This critical land-use planning policy determines which party is responsible for sound mitigation when new building or renovations take place in a mixed-use area, such as a new development of flats within ear range of an existing venue.

“We’ve set up a London Music Board and a Night Time Commission, both recommendations of the Rescue Plan,” Shapiro stated. “We’ve managed to change the law in the U.K. as well, in reference to how certain buildings are constructed next to licensed premises. But we have a long, long way to go.”

In addition to these venue rescue plans, including London’s Live Music Task Force, a new city position was introduced: a Night Mayor. Whether other cities would embrace this specialized, city-employed purveyor of nighttime culture, Shapiro wasn’t sure, but believed the topic is one that’s emerging.

“We’re pursuing the idea in London right now, as we’ve amassed a Commission of 17 people to report back to the Mayor on this very question by November [of this year]. I think we need to have a serious discussion about how we plan our cities at night. There’s some great work in this, led by the Responsible Hospitality Institute in the U.S. and Night Time Industries Association in the U.K. 

We need to keep this going, whether a city decides to have or create this position or not.”

Register for the Music Cities Summit here –

For tickets to Canadian Music Week festival, go to or

The FULL CMW schedule at a glance, including the Digital Media, Social and Music Summits, Radio Interactive Sessions, Comedy Fest and more:


This portion of The Kaffeine Buzz Show podcast below, a SXSW 2016 Preview episode, spotlights the SXSW Music panel, “Small Live Music Venues – Who Needs Them Anymore?” plus clips from Venues Day in October of last year, along with the indie music and venue documetaries “Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio” and “Echotone.”


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