This is a guest column by Shain Shapiro, Founder & Executive Director of Center for Music Ecosystems, a global not-for-profit organisation that focuses on music ecosystems that foster more sustainable communities. Shapiro is also Founder & Chairman of Sound Diplomacy, the global research and strategy consultancy. His work centres around the power that music has to help educate, create better neighbourhoods, spark fulfilling careers, and more. Here he sets out his new ambitions, where the objective he says, is simple: “more investment in artists and wider respect for music in all halls of government and civic discourse.”

Last year I launched the Center for Music Ecosystems. Music can be much more valuable – to all of us – than it is. But we lack a language, lexicon and framework to explain why music matters outside of the sector and how communities, no matter where they are, can benefit from music. Music can increase literacy rates. It can reduce poverty and support net-zero targets, for example. But to do so, it needs to be seen as an ecosystem by leaders and communities.

Music ecosystems are the conditions that make it possible for music to thrive in communities and the study of these conditions impacts, both positive and negative. It is both the music industry and music’s role in community – education, celebration, religion or healthcare. There is little recognition or understanding of the systems that exist around us that ensure making a living from music is possible and their fragility. This is normal. When something works, we forget that anything is happening to make it function. Take a glass of water from a tap. There’s myriad systems in place to ensure clean water comes out of the tap  – filtration, pipes, plumbing, desalination and so on. And clean water is only important when one doesn’t have it.

Shain Shapiro

The same dissonance occurs when immersed in a song – few recognize what’s happening to make that moment happen. And as a result, much of the world that consumes music lacks a basic understanding of how it functions and most importantly, how to invest in and benefit from it.

“Much of the world that consumes music lacks a basic understanding of how it functions”

One aspect that unites all music ecosystems is their inherent inequality. In developed music markets, often music education remains out of reach to those on low incomes and regulations exist, from sound ordinances to public assembly laws that discriminate against certain demographics. Gender wage parity and fair pay remains an issue. This is even worse in developing music markets, where the lack of a transparent CMO limits artist opportunities. Many families still scoff at their children wishing to become musicians, thinking it is a frivolous pursuit.

At the same time, global finance organizations lack a basic understanding of how music works. There is no music policy at the World Bank, or International Monetary Fund, or within any United Nations agency, outside of UNESCO’s global cultural work and cities of music designation. Engaging music is an ad-hoc affair, through a benefit concert or singular NGO. There is no sustained, holistic investment framework to support music in communities. This is because we do not see music as an ecosystem and that investment in it, be it education, copyright or access to broadband, is about more than music.

“The objective is simple; more investment in artists and wider respect for music in all halls of government and civic discourse.”

To do this, our plan is to create a global leaders program to educate elected officials and policymakers on how to engage with their music ecosystems. The objective is simple; more investment in artists and wider respect for music in all halls of government and civic discourse.

I want every child, no matter where they are or what they look like, to feel a career in music is possible. I want all genres and disciplines to receive equal treatment across financing and regulation. I want governments to recognise the potential value of music rights and invest in them, particularly to support emerging artists. But we need a framework. This framework is the music ecosystem.

The more outside actors invest in music, the more others are financing our talent development. The more business friendly tax regulations, the more the sector can invest. The more music infrastructure in communities, the more talent will be given a place to test, improve and thrive. And the more the global community sees music as a need to have, rather than a nice to have, the better we’ll all be for it.

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