Music branding and connectivity in the global city

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By Andrea Baker


Music is omnipresent, mobile, and online and can appear to have no geographical heart. But it does and St Kilda remains an influential music scene in the Australian landscape.

Melbourne’s music scenes will be a topic of discussion at the first Australian symposium exploring the growing phenomenon of music cities. The symposium, hosted by the City of Melbourne, will be held on 12 November at the Melbourne Town Hall.

As a founder member of the advocacy group, St Kilda Live Music Community, which began in 2010 and the academic representative on the City of Melbourne’s Music Strategy Committee (2014-2017), I have been involved in the year-long planning for this symposium. This involvement also evolved from my current project comparing the music cities of Melbourne, Austin and Berlin in the pending book titled, The Life, Death and Rejuvenation of the Great Music City.

Aptly titled ‘We Can Get Together,’ after the hit single from Australian rock band, Flowers (later known as Icehouse) the music symposium is co-sponsored by Monash and RMIT Universities. It will bring together key players from Australia’s music industry, music makers, journalists, academics, government spokespersons and urban planners in a talk fest about growth and sustainability of music cities, and in particular, Melbourne, which is touted as the music capital of Australia.

James Black, local musician from SBS TV’s Rockwiz – a program filmed at the Esplanade hotel – will give the local keynote address at the symposium, while I will be chairing an afternoon workshop titled, ‘Postcard perfect: music branding and connectivity in the global city.’

Looking at the ‘big picture’ globally, my analysis of the music cities discourse reveals a hierarchy based on power, heritage, influence and branding.

Highest in the hierarchy are the superstar cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville and London, which are the business centres of the industry and where the majority of musicians are born and/or based.

The middle rung in the hierarchy are the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) cities of music who are awarded this status, based on their cultural heritage. The most recent addition to the 11 UNESCO cities of music is Liverpool, the birthplace of the ‘Fab Four’, The Beatles.

Lowest in the music hierarchy are the smaller cities, such as Toronto, Austin, Berlin and Melbourne, whose vibrant music scenes are associated with a self-branding exercise.

The renowned Melbourne music scene is mainly located in key areas, south (St Kilda) and north (Fitzroy, Northcote) of the river, a divide that has existed since colonial times.  As local historian Graeme Davidson noted, by 1891 Melbourne was unashamed a plutocracy, split by two broad cultural areas, ruled by the Yarra river. The grassy knoll by the sea (St Kilda) became the best classical music address in Melbourne, while the suburbs of Fitzroy and Northcote emerged as working class hubs.

By the 1960s there was little sense of the bourgeois culture in St Kilda, as its musical landscape gave way to the counterculture and St Kilda became the historical heartland of Australian pop music during the 1960s and the post punk scene in the 1970s.

Since the 1980s the problem of urban expansion, with the side effects of gentrification, high-density living, noise restrictions, and regulation has hindered the vibrant music scene in St Kilda.

Today, industry research about which side of the Yarra has the ‘best’ live music scene, centres on either venue or songwriter location.

The 2012 Victorian Live Music census found that the majority of Melbourne’s “de facto set of music clusters” were either north (Fitzroy had 39 live music venues) or south of the city (St Kilda had 38 venues).  It dispelled the myth that live music had moved beyond the historical heart of St Kilda to cluster north of the Yarra.

Released on 22 December 2014, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS) National songwriter, postcode rankings, 2003-2013 report found that Melbourne has the most contemporary song writers in Australia, the majority of whom live in Brunswick or Northcote.

Four other Melbourne postcodes made the Top 10 in this songwriter analysis (Fitzroy, 3rd; Coburg, 6th; and Preston, 7th), while St Kilda fell from 4th to 10th place over the decade.

The ‘We Can Get Together’ music symposium on 12 November will move beyond the nationally competitive rhetoric of which Australian city (or suburb) has the best music scene. It will be a mature discussion exploring the challenges faced by music cities in the twenty-first century.

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