Continued from the previous post…
No longer dependent on “artist development” from record companies managing the modern equivalent of the company store, musicians now have the ability to create their own success, build their own value, maintain control of their own careers, and follow their muse. In a sense, when the changes are complete, the music business will have become the musician business.
It’s a new world of customer customization and musician empowerment, and the independence that lies at the heart of it is a fundamental characteristic of Memphis music itself.
The digital wave will inevitably wash away the vestiges of the music industry as we have known it, and with Memphis’ history of entrepreneurial leaps – whether inventing American popular music or modern international commerce – there’s no reason that our city can’t get there first and become a dominant player in music again.
Knowing this, what guiding principles should we follow? (And some of these apply to talent generally, not just to musical talent.)
Invest in talent. It’s the mantra in the knowledge economy, and it’s especially true in Memphis, a city with a rich vein of creativity. Rather than put millions of dollars on the line for big ideas, a venture fund is needed to invest in creativity that refuses to be limited by conventional thinking or old business models.
Empower bottom-up solutions. Memphis’ history shows that top-down programs find little traction with musicians known for their independence. (Required reading: the Chips Moman file in the Memphis Room of the Central Library.)
Create musician-centric strategies. With the Music Commission swinging for the fences, musicians often feel like afterthoughts. There is the widespread suspicion that music initiatives aren’t about musicians, but an agenda thrust upon them. Successful strategies need to be defined simply – whether they put money in the pocket of local musicians.
Make Memphis music ubiquitous. Our music should be the thread that weaves together the fabric of the city. When people dial the mayor’s office in Seattle, they hear local bands, and the city website even offers information about bands, their web links, and podcasting subscriptions. That would be a start, but we’ll know we’ve succeeded when our music finally greets people at Memphis International Airport.
Make music a key part of a larger creative worker strategy. Rather than treat music as another economic development program, it should be a way to unleash the creativity that is an innate part of Memphis’ psyche and create the vibrancy that makes cities appealing to knowledge workers.
Pursue distinctiveness as a competitive advantage. There is a proven economic advantage in difference, and in recent CEOs for Cities’ research of the 50 largest cities about talent, innovation, distinctiveness, and connectivity, Memphis scores highest on distinctiveness. In the report’s “Weirdness Index,” Memphis is #19, and if Memphis wants to emulate Austin in anything, it should be its “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.
Make music strategies transparent. Programs of the Music Commission and Music Foundation have been dragged down by turf issues, questions about priorities, and lack of dependable communication and involvement with government and community organizations. Yes, it’s a lot of trouble, but ultimately, success depends on it. The silos are way too prevalent in Memphis’s economic development strategies and programs, and it’s a big reason that everyone talks about the importance of talent but without doing much to address it.